With the Yankees at Citi Field tonight the game was guaranteed to have a little more juice than the usual mid-May, mid-week game. But now the game has taken on more importance, as one of the team’s touted pitching prospects, Rafael Montero, gets his first Mets start.
How could I not be? This is just one of a series of moves I had wanted the Mets to make, many of them right out of spring training. For Rafael Montero, it’s time.
Now, yes, there are quibbles and questions. Why wasn’t deGrom prepared for a role that looked inevitable? Why was Montero’s debut slated for a sold-out home game against the Yankees, especially in light of the handling of similar (and highly successful) ML debuts by Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler away from the media demands of NY? I can understand where fans of Jenrry Mejia might feel that he’s been treated unfairly, set up to fail. It’s right for him to feel disappointed, maybe even a little betrayed. However, to me, Mejia does look and act like my idea of a reliever. Overall, big picture, this has been a very positive orchestration of events by Mets management. Dare I say it? I’m hopeful. Even if the Mets fall short this season, this would be how I want to do it. Let youth be served.
I understand your concern and the timing seems like an obvious marketing ploy. But I’m not sweating that part of it. I’m happy to see the front office putting some gas on the pedal. It’s time to see what Rafael Montero can do.
Montero has earned this shot. This is not a frightened Julio Valera taking Ron Darling’s spot in a big series in Pittsburgh (Valera got shelled for 8 hits in 2 IP, and the panic move invited doom for Frank Cashen and Buddy Harrelson, signaling the end of an era).
Now it is time to see what the Mets have got. There are concerns, of course. Is his ball too straight? Does he have the secondary pitches? And so on. But none of those questions can be answered in Las Vegas. We know he can dominate in the minor leagues. If it turns out that Montero’s only a reliever, that’s not like flunking second grade. A solid bullpen is critical to any team’s success — and building from within appears to be the surest, most cost-effective way to go. We need quality pitchers back there, too.
In sum: The smooth right-hander from the Dominican Republic, arguably the last impact player identified and scouted during the Minaya regime, needs to pitch in New York for the Mets — and finally that day has arrived. At a certain point, how it all came down is beside the point. I can hardly complain now. By waiting until May 14th, Alderson retained Montero’s rights for an extra season. But by not waiting another 5-6 weeks, the Mets GM willingly forfeited “Super 2″ status, which effects arbitration eligibility. Good, solid thinking from Mets management.
The corresponding move is that Mejia goes to the bullpen. He has been fairly vocal he doesn’t want to go there, but somebody had to go somewhere. I sure don’t want to see a six-man rotation. How Jenrry performs in his new role could be the actual key to whether Montero’s call up improves the team. I’m not expecting Montero to show up and be any better than Mejia was in the rotation, but there is a lot of room for improvement in that Mets bullpen.
There’s a lot of second-hand, third-hand speculation about Jenrry’s druthers. Who really knows? I find it impossible to measure the strength of his convictions. I’d guess that 100% of young starting pitchers would prefer, all things being equal, to remain in starting roles. He needs to be handled correctly, supported, told the right things, and praised for performing this extremely valuable role. There’s no choice — I’m not saying to baby him — but the team can help itself by helping him embrace the situation.
The first night went great. Mejia pitched well, and was pumped. Mejia has always come across as a high-energy guy. That plays well in the bullpen. The fact is that the pen is the real area of need. And realistically, no one else from the rotation could be shifted. It was either Montero or Mejia. I’m comfortable with this initial choice.
Eric Campbell has already given the Mets a breath of fresh air. On Monday night, he twice used speed on the base paths, stretching a single to reach safely at second and, later, scoring on a beautiful slide into the plate (thank you, new anti-collision rules). That was a skill Josh Satin lacked. So here again we can quibble about timing, but the pieces are in fact falling into place. We might wish for better pieces, but at least now — finally — the Mets are marshaling their forces correctly. I believe that Josh Satin earned his job this spring based on last season’s solid performance. Then he lost it. But rather than fiddle and dither around, Sandy uncharacteristically made an early decision.
That’s the new element here. We were so frustrated by the lengthy evaluation process with Ike Davis and Lucas Duda — years of indecisiveness — that when they moved quickly on Mejia, it felt rushed and too sudden. But stepping back to look at it, I can’t complain about them being too slow and too fast. I am glad to see new urgency. No complaints from me (today!). In retrospect, I see that they got caught into a Samuel Beckett-like snare of “Waiting for Ike,” the player who never arrived. At least they aren’t waiting for Josh.
Do you think they were feeling the heat?
Punting another season doesn’t make sense. With this horrible bullpen, the team is still right at .500. With the additional Wild Card if you can go a few games over, you are in the race. Familia has shown signs in the last two weeks of what he can provide. If Mejia and deGrom pitch well, this team gets very interesting. The starting pitching has been there all along.
This is why the bullpen situation has been so frustrating to me. It’s not like shortstop, where the entire system is barren, there are arms in this organization. I wrote a post early in the season, Losing is One Thing, Not Trying is Another. It’s way too early in the season to pack it in. These moves are a breath of fresh air, whatever the motivation.
And what is the downside? The pitchers being replaced are shot cases, no loss there. If the rookies do not produce, the team might learn valuable information about them. And if they succeed, hey, you never know.