Thursday, September 15, 2005

Benson Blunder
By Ben Valentine

Earlier this year I remarked to my mom how I wouldn’t have signed Pedro Martinez. She pointed out that along with my hatred of last year’s Kris Benson trade, it appeared I probably should be eating my words. I defended myself by saying my disagreements with the Pedro signing had little to do with his performance for this year; it was for years down the road. Only time will if my reservations were correct there.

However, I feel I can safely say again the Mets acquisition of Kris Benson was a mistake. It was a mistake to trade for him when he was going to be a free agent, and it wasn’t a particularly good move to sign him, though I can’t fault the Mets for doing it after they foolishly gave up star hitting prospect Justin Huber in the trade. I posted these numbers the other night just as a fun look for myself to see how good Jae Seo has been compared to the other Met starters but I was surprised how mediocre Benson’s stats were. Last night’s start against the Nationals made them worse. Then somewhere around the time Vinny Castilla was taking him deep, I decided it was time to roast Anna’s Boy Toy over the Sportszilla coals. People have had the impression he's had a good season. The numbers say otherwise.

9-8, 4.16 ERA, 154.2 IP, 153 H, 43 BB, 88 Ks, 21 Hrs, .255 Opp BA, 1.28 WHIP, 5.15 K/9, 2.05 K/BB, 1.22 Hrs/9, 1.09 G/F

Those numbers aren’t awful, but they aren’t very good either. The Mets are paying 7 million for Benson. In a perfect, fiscally responsible world, that’s too much. But in the real, overpriced world of Major League Baseball, there is worse out there being paid more money. (Jaret Wright, Jon Leiber, Carl Pavano anyone?) But like with Tom Glavine, the Mets could do better in house for less. Victor Zambrano gave them the same thing this year and he’s in the pen. Steve Trachsel can certainly give the Mets a high 3.00’s ERA and you’d figure as many innings. The other problem with Benson is that he’s had shoulder problems this year, which is the probably culprit for the decline in his strike out totals. He’s a guy who was usually in the high 5.00’s to low 6.00s with his K/9 IP. He also has been very prone to the gopher ball, which won’t kill you in Shea, but it’s just another thing to be wary of.

The good news for the Mets is Benson still has the reputation of being a good pitcher. In fact at 7 million, I think if he can get his ERA under 4.00, some team will look at him like a bargain. So he actually is a tradable commodity who could bring back a decent piece of packaged and sold correctly, especially with the bare free agent market this offseason. If such a deal comes along the Mets should do it in a heartbeat. They won’t miss Benson all that much, and that seven million could be invested elsewhere.

Now for part two. If Benson gets dealt, who do you replace him with?

In my last post, I suggested the Mets have a top three of Martinez, Aaron Heilman and Jae Seo while either bringing back Steve Trachsel or using Victor Zambrano out of the fourth spot. You could resign Trachsel and still use Zambrano out of the fifth spot. However I’m going to advocate taking a risk by using prospect Brian Bannister. (Thus shocking Zach by not suggesting Yusmerio Petit)

The 24 year old righty had a great year at AA and a pretty solid start to his AAA career. A 7th round pick for the Mets in 2003 out of USC, he had a break through season this year after a solid, though unspectacular in his first full year of professional baseball.

2004 High A: 5-7, 4.32 ERA, 110.1 IP, 111 H, 27 BB, 107 Ks, 6 Hrs, 1.25 WHIP, 8.65 K/9, 3.93 K/BB .49Hr/9

2004: AA: 3-3, 4.06 ERA, 44.1 IP, 45 H, 17 BB, 28 Ks, 2 Hrs, 1.40 WHIP, 5.68 K/9, 1.65 K/BB, .41 hr/9

2005 AA: 9-4, 2.56 ERA 109 IP, 91 H, 27 BB, 94 Ks, 11hrs, 1.24 WHIP, 7.76 K/9, 3.48 K/BB, .908 Hrs/9

2005 AAA: 4-1, 3.18 ERA 45.1 IP, 48 H, 13 BB, 48 Ks, 0 Hrs, 1.35 WHIP, 9.53 K/9, 3.69 K/BB, 0 Hrs/9

Obviously, like his AA numbers at the end of 2004, Bannister’s AAA numbers are a relatively small sample size. Still, while he’s given up a good number of hits, one has to be impressed by the number of strikeouts he’s generating while keeping his walk total down. Also of note is his home runs allowed. I find it interesting because it jumped so much at AA Binghamton after being pretty solid at single A, and then has dropped again at AAA. The Mets top prospect, Petit, also had severe home run issues at Binghamton this year (his only problem at that level), so maybe it’s the park rather than the pitcher.

I feel considering the solid year he’s had and the fact he’ll be 25 next year, the Mets should give Bannister the fifth spot in the rotation. They have little to lose, especially if Trachsel returns. Should Bannister be downright awful, Zambrano could be slotted into the rotation (or Petit, depending how he looked at AAA next season). On the other hand it isn’t unreasonable for Bannister to give them as much as Benson has this season. Plus at 25, he has upside. Benson, 31 next year, might improve some if his problems this year are the result of injury, but then again, who’s to say he’s going to get healthy?

All and all, this is a calculated risk the Mets should take. Trading Benson should get the team back another useful part and Bannister shouldn’t constitute a drop off in quality of starting pitching.

And there you have it; the 2006 Mets rotation if it were up to me. To repeat: Pedro Martinez, Jae Seo, Aaron Heilman, Steve Trachsel, Brian Bannister. Yeah I know it doesn’t look impressive name wise. But big names haven’t bought the Mets anything except last place finishes the last three years. And doing worse than last, even for the Mets, would be hard.

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