Mailbag: Pitching is hot-button issue

Mailbag: How will Mets address pitching needs?

What is the team doing to improve for 2007? The Dodgers, Phillies, Cubs and Padres are all making moves to improve. All the Mets have done is sign a 40-year-old outfielder who has played 150 games in a season four times -- twice in the last seven seasons, re-signed a 40-year-old pitcher -- maybe two, depending on how old El Duque really is -- re-signed a pitcher serving a 50-game suspension and re-signed a 37-year-old second baseman whose numbers next season most likely will not match his numbers from 2006.

Please tell me there is serious work being done to acquire a proven front-end-of-the-rotation pitcher. What moves are the Mets trying to make to be better in '07 than '06?
-- Matt G., Allentown, Pa.

To a degree, you're preaching -- or at least writing -- to the choir. I thought the club would make an effort to become younger, particularly after the late-season breakdowns by Cliff Floyd, Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, and the production dropoff by Jose Valentin suggested that a move in that direction would be wise. And the addition of Moises Alou moves the roster in the other direction.

But understand this about Alou -- he wasn't signed to play nine innings in each of 155 games. I'd guess 120 games is the max for him. And he'll be replaced frequently for defense and baserunning by outfielders Endy Chavez and Ben Johnson. Chances are Valentin won't play as many innings per week in 2007 as he did after late May last year.

Since the Mets nearly reached the World Series last year, I'm considering buying season tickets for 2007. However, with the Cubs, Dodgers and Phillies all bulking up during the offseason and the Mets making nothing other then minor moves, I'm beginning to re-think the purchase. I was hoping you could give me some advice about my situation and possibly give me some insight on transactions that they may make in the near future.
-- Brian L., East Meadow, N.Y.

I'll be quite surprised if they don't import another veteran starting pitcher. Mark Mulder still appears to be a better bet than Barry Zito. And a move to import one of the A's starters -- Danny Haren, Rich Harden and Joe Blanton -- is, to me, more likely than signing Zito. The holdup in any trade scenario is the inclusion of right-hander Aaron Heilman in any package.

Heilman's changeup was a primary component in the "different look" bullpen mentioned. Manny Mota throws an effective changeup, but he won't be pitching until early June. And the new reliever Ambiorix Burgos doesn't replace Heilman, either.

That's why I think signing Mulder is the most likely move. He costs money, not nearly as much as Zito, and he, too, will benefit from a relationship with pitching coach Rick Peterson. He would upgrade the rotation and his acquisition wouldn't undermine the bullpen.

With all that said, do you suppose the Philies in '07 are likely to make up the 12 games that separated them from the first-place Mets at the end of last season? Will they be so much better? Will the Mets be something less? Will it be 12 games worth? And what do the Cubs and Dodgers have to do with anything?

The Mets and Phillies are likely to be the best teams in the National League East. More than that I can't say. Do the Mets, in December, have to be be the favorites to reach the World Series before you'll feel comfortable? No one can say they are or will be. That's why they play 162 games.

How about Lastings Milledge, Mike Pelfrey and Philip Humber to the Twins for Johan Santana? How does that sound?
-- Keith C., Miami

It sounds great, but the Twins aren't soliciting any offers for their ace left-hander.

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How could the Mets allow a terrific middle reliever like Chad Bradford slip away? Is general manager Omar Minaya only interested in players older than 38?
-- Carole M., Staten Island, N.Y.

The years that mattered most in this scenario amounted to three, the length of the contract the Orioles offered Bradford. The moment they offered three, the Mets excused themselves from the pursuit of -- you're right -- a pitcher who had a terrific season in 2006. The way the Mets saw the Bradford circumstances was similar to how the Braves operated for years with their relievers. Their sense was/is that no element of the game is more inconsistent from one year to the next than the performance by middle relievers.

The ones who prosper for more than two years in a row are more the exception than the rule. So while Bradford's contributions of 2006 were quite important to the Mets success and while they will be difficult to duplicate in '07, chances are Bradford wouldn't have matched them either.

Regardless, the Mets unquestionably would have re-signed him if he had fit in their budget, and begrudgingly acknowledged some slippage was quite possible. Bradford's unorthodox delivery, Heilman's changeup, Duaner Sanchez's hard breaking ball and Billy Wagner's fastball made for a lot of "looks" among the Mets relievers, and made the impact of the bullpen greater than the sum of its parts in the first half of last season.

But an offer for three years from the Orioles blew it up. They had to make an offer of that nature to entice a "contact" pitcher to move back to the American League and pitch in smallish Camden Yards.

I am campaigning for the Mets to acquire Carlos Zambrano from the Cubs. I believe he has one year left with the Cubs. Simple question: Can the Mets make it happen? If so, Peterson can work with Zambrano to reduce his walks and ERA. Zambrano is the kind of pitcher the Mets need; not another offspeed, control pitcher like Zito.
-- Matt S., Dallas

Campaign all you want. The Cubs didn't spend millions on Ted Lilly, Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez so they could trade the pitcher most likely to be their No. 1 starter in 2007. A swing-and-miss pitcher in Wrigley Field is more a necessity than a luxury. I agree, a power pitcher would be a better for the Mets' rotation than Zito, especially now that Tom Glavine has re-signed. And who do you suggest the Mets deal for Zambrano?

Given the loss of Steve Traschel and likely cost of Zito, doesn't it make sense to try Heilman at a starter, a role he covets? Glavine, El Duque, Heilman, Oliver Perez and Pelfrey may be as good a rotation as possible until Marinez returns.
-- Alex C., Virginia Beach, Va.

Heilman's preference to start has little to do with the Mets' needs. Moreover, the Mets aren't convinced he would be as effective a starter as he has been a reliever. Right now, the Mets need to add depth to their rotation and bullpen. They can upgrade the rotation without trading or diminishing the bullpen depth they do have. If they were to re-assign Heilman, they would be hard-pressed to find a reliever comparable to him, and he might turn out to be less of a starter than one of the remaining free-agent starters, let's say Mulder.

I think you overlooked John Maine in your proposed rotation. He is far more likely to be in the rotation than Perez or Pelfrey. You may be assuming too much about Perez because of his National League Championship Series performance. His ability to shut down an opponent has never been questioned. However, his ability to pitch consistently from start to start, inning to inning and even batter to batter does remain an issue.

I think it would be great to trade Milledge, Heilman and possibly Humber for a guy like Haren. He doesn't get paid a lot and coming to the National League could probably make him more effective. It would give the Mets a rotation with Glavine, hopefully Zito, Haren, El Duque and Maine until Martinez comes back, and that would be an awesome playoff rotation.
-- David N., Binghamton, N.Y.

And who would pitch in relief?

I'm not sure the Mets should include Heilman in any deal. I'm sure dealing Heilman, Milledge and Humber for any one of the A's pitchers would be overpayment.

I hear that after the Mets were unable to sign Julio Lugo, they planned to use Valentin at second base next season. Why don't they go after someone like Mark Loretta, a consistent bat, rather than the shaky Valentin?
-- Chris C., North Massapequa, N.Y.

I'm not so sure shaky is the appropriate modifier. Valentin had a productive late May to Sept. 1 run last season, batting low in the order -- no easy task. If the Mets did bring in Loretta, where would he bat? Not second, as he did for the Red Sox last season. Paul Lo Duca thrived in the No. 2 slot, and to bat Loretta in the bottom of the order woud be to devalue him.

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.