Saturday, August 13, 2005

Earning A Place
By Ben Valentine

As I noted last week in my post hailing Jae Seo as the savior, delivering Mets fans from Kaz Ishii, I felt the Korean righty deserved a chance to prove whether or not his 2003 season was a fluke or not. I suggested the Mets move Seo in the rotation permanently for the rest of the season by booting or trading Tom Glavine.

Well my Glavine dislike aside, Mets manager Willie Randolph seems to share many of these sentiments. Before today’s start against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Randolph suggested Seo was not auditioning for a spot in the rotation; that he had earned a shot already. Most people took it with a grain of salt, but the issue became more prevalent after Seo hurled eight innings, giving up five hits, one walk and a run while fanning six.

Then after the game Randolph surprised many by announcing Seo would get another start, effectively throwing a monkey wrench into the Mets grand design.

For those of you who don’t know, Steve Trachsel, the Mets’ most consistent starter over the last 3 years, is about to return from a season long back injury. According to all reports, Trachsel has looked good in all his rehab starts. He has nothing left to show in the minors, so it was a fait a compli that he would get his rotation spot when he was ready.

But then Seo kept pitching well.

So now the Mets have a dilemma. It’s a much better problem to have than the Yankees’ problem of Aaron Small or Al Leiter, but a problem nonetheless. After Rick Peterson also announced the Mets would not use a six man rotation, the Mets now have six starters for five spots. Someone has to go to the pen/minors.

The logical option is so send Trachsel to the pen, since he hasn’t proven he can get big league hitters out this year. However, Met radio announcers Gary Cohen and Ed Coleman, who know more about Trachsel than I, both felt their experiences with the pitcher’s nature lead them to believe he would be ill suited for the role. That leads to the obvious next question; if Trachsel does go in, then who goes out?

Choice 1: Victor Zambrano. Zambrano has been shaky 3 out of his last 4 starts after being the Mets' third best pitcher (behind Benson and Pedro) for about two months. He also has the best stuff for short relief; a hard fastball and slider. On the other hand he’s prone to wildness, naturally bad for a short man. Plus the Mets still seem reluctant to make any move which would add more fuel to the “Kazmir for Zambrano mistake” fire.

Choice 2: Glavine to the pen. Not likely. They might as well release him if they were planning on this. There’s no way, especially after his improvement of late, that Glavine would ever go for this.

Choice 3: Push Trachsel back and give Seo one more start and take it from there. Basically, I mean the Mets wouldn’t start Trachsel on Seo’s day, but the day after. If Seo, Trachsel or Zambrano stunk, it would allow the Mets to move that person to the pen. What if all three stink? Seo goes to the pen. What if they’re all good? Seo probably goes to the pen.

Choice 4: Trade someone. Glavine or Trachsel are the only real candidates, unless Zambrano brings a good prospect back. (Not likely) Trachsel won’t bring much back with his injury. Glavine makes the most sense, but the Mets consider themselves in it. I doubt G.M. Omar Minaya would trade a “sure” starter in Glavine to give an unknown in Seo a chance.

I am glad Randolph has had the guts to break with Peterson and keep Seo in for at least another start. Former Mets manager and current idiot Art Howe along with Peterson completely mislead Seo in spring training in 2004; telling him to work on another pitch and then when he got lit up doing so, he was bumped from the rotation. This was in spring training mind you. Somehow Scott Erickson was a better option in their eyes than a guy who pitched to a sub 4.00 ERA the year before. But thankfully, after hearing interviews over the last month with Randolph, I get the impression he’s high on Seo, more so than he was on Aaron Heilman. Perhaps it’s because of Seo’s 2003. Look he’s not as good as he’s been, but there’s no reason he can’t be as good, if not a little better than he was in his breakout season.

However, I get the feeling that unless there’s a trade or another injury, Seo’s time in the Mets’ rotation will be short simply because bumping him carries with it the least amount of baggage. And I don’t care if in his next start he lasts 2 innings and gives up 10 runs. It will still be a shame.


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