Mets make several roster moves

Mets make several roster moves

NEW YORK -- In an effort to change the direction of their season, the Mets have changed the composition of their bullpen and rotation. After 37 games -- and only 20 victories -- the Mets made a set of moves on Tuesday based on performance, not infirmary. And in doing so, it gave a sense of notice that mediocrity won't cut it anymore.

Elements of their loss to the last-place Nationals on Monday night, specifically the ineffective pitching of Nelson Figueroa and Jorge Sosa, prompted the Mets to abandon their plan to demote Joe Smith. Instead, they designated Figueroa and Sosa for assignment and put an end to clubhouse chatter that had begun when word of Smith's pending demotion circulated.

Rather than option Smith to the Minor Leagues and bring either Willie Collazo or Adam Bostick to the big leagues for one start against the Nationals on Wednesday, the club removed Figueroa and Sosa from the 25-man roster, ended the disabled-list assignment of Matt Wise and added veteran right-handed starter Claudio Vargas to the rotation. Wise replaced Sosa in the bullpen, and Vargas replaced Figueroa.

The moves were made officially on Tuesday, but some of the players involved were told on Monday night following the Mets' 10-4 loss to the Nationals. Vargas, who won 11 games with the Brewers last season, was to have started for the Mets' Triple-A New Orleans affiliate on Tuesday night. Instead, he will fill the need created by the postponement on Friday night. Moreover, manager Willie Randolph indicated that Vargas will make additional starts, not surprising because Vargas is the replacement for Pedro Martinez.

Those moves and two others -- the club also assigned Angel Pagan to the DL because of a bruised left shoulder and replaced him in the roster with veteran utility man Fernando Tatis -- came three days after a meeting involving the club's hierarchy between games of Saturday's day-night doubleheader and essentially as Figueroa and Sosa were allowing 10 runs against the team with the lowest batting average in the league.

The Saturday meeting involved owner Fred Wilpon, general manager Omar Minaya, Randolph and some coaches. A person familiar with that meeting said on Tuesday that a sense of dissatisfaction had developed.

Since Saturday's doubleheader, the Mets have won two of three, putting their record for the season at 20-17, a number ownership finds less than fulfilling when weighed against its investment. The Wilpons had expected significantly more by now, particularly because of the players' stated desire to make amends for the late-season collapse last year.

That disappointment notwithstanding, there are no indications of any pending personnel moves above the field. "Probably not as long as we stay as close as were are [third place, three games out through Monday]," a person familiar with the Wilpons' thinking said on Tuesday.

That person also said that as late as game time on Monday, the plans still involved demoting Smith, retaining Sosa, recalling Bostick or Collazo -- probably the former -- and then returning him to the Minor Leagues on Thursday to create room on the 25-player roster for Wise.

But as Minaya said as he explained the moves on Tuesday, "I don't think Sosa helped his caused last night."

And the same phrasing applied to Figueroa. At one point during the game on Monday night, Minaya and his assistants, Tony Bernazard and John Ricco, concluded that the team needed to do more than fill the rotation void for Wednesday.

Beyond that, demoting Smith was not a move anyone favored in terms of performance. The only reasons Smith was going to be the victim and Sosa the survivor were that the Mets have options on Smith's contract and could demote him without risk of losing him, and that they had no means of removing Sosa from the roster and themselves from the contract that pays him $2 million for the 2008 season.

Other than closer Billy Wagner, Smith had been the team's most reliable reliever. He had allowed five walks and 12 hits in 16 innings and produced a 2.81 ERA in 18 appearances (16 innings). He had allowed merely two of 18 inherited runners to score, and one of the two scored on a near-double play. Sosa, meanwhile, had reverted to the pitcher he has been throughout most of his career. He had allowed four home runs, two of them grand slams, in 20 appearances and 21 2/3 innings. His ERA was 7.06, and opposing hitters were batting .323 against him.

The Mets were hoping to deal Sosa on Monday, but another club could sign him after he clears waivers and not be responsible for the remainder of his salary. A waiver claim or trade would transfer that obligation or some negotiated portion of it.

The Mets are all but certain Sosa will clear waivers and not agree to return as a Minor League player. They believe Figueroa might return if he clears. For now, he is gone after producing a 2-3 record and 5.12 ERA in nine games -- six starts -- and 38 2/3 innings. The Mets had lost three of his past four starts.

Smith left Shea Stadium Monday night, thinking the original plan still was in place, despite word from Wagner.

"[Wagner] told me I had nothing to worry about," Smith said. "But I didn't know what he meant." Aware of his angst, the Mets tried to contact Smith on Monday, but they had the wrong number.

He heard from Pelfrey on Tuesday morning that he was safe. "I don't know or care how he knew," Smith said. "I was just happy to know I was staying."

With Wise and Smith in place, the Mets' bullpen appears better stocked than it has been since the second day of the season, when Wise suffered a strained muscle in his right forearm. The club said the diagnosis was a bruise. It was unclear how Wise's presence would affect the other members of the bullpen. Sosa had been used in long and setup relief. And with the Mets' starters routinely removed before the seventh inning, there had been substantial need for a pitcher of his stamina and resilience. But the club needed quality, too.

Wise and Smith are likely to be used in setup, meaning Aaron Heilman may be called on to pitch earlier in games. Earlier assignments already had begun for Heilman, who had struggled most of the season.

Vargas, 29, has a 1-1 record and 4.91 ERA in two starts and 11 innings for Triple-A New Orleans. He has a 43-38 record and 4.95 ERA in 153 games, 110 starts. Wise's teammate last season, he had Brian Schneider as his catcher with the Expos and Nationals in 2003-05. He signed a Minor League contract with the Mets on April 10, having been released by the Brewers on March 25.

Replacing Pagan with Tatis was a change made for medical reasons. Pagan's left-handed swing was compromised by the injury he suffered last week in Los Angeles. And with Moises Alou back and playing regularly, the club can get by with Endy Chavez as its defensive replacement outfielder and Tatis as another alternate. Tatis, 33, plays second and third base and hits with power. He was leading the Pacific Coast League -- hardly a pitching-friendly league -- in home runs with 12 in 120 at-bats.

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