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Pressure Is On Minaya, Mets

By Rajiv Leventhal

With Derek Lowe now an Atlanta Brave at the costly price of 4 years and $60 million, the Mets are now in a position they would rather not be in.
Lowe was the Mets top target in the starting pitching market, much like Francisco Rodriguez was their top target in the relief market. While they played the K-Rod situation brilliantly, this time, Minaya might have gotten a little too cute.

We all knew the 3 year, $36 million offer to Lowe wasn't going to get it done. But Minaya never seemed enthused to increase the offer, thinking that no other team could justify making an offer significantly higher than that. The mistake here was that the longer you wait, the more likely other teams will join the mix. Minaya didn't care if that happened with K-Rod, because he felt there were other viable options out there just in case Rodriguez took more money elsewhere. And he was absolutely right to think that. But this time, Lowe took the money from a division rival and now the options are few and far between for a quality starting pitcher.

The only two pitchers in the free agent market that I would deem anywhere near the quality of Lowe would be Oliver Perez and Ben Sheets. Mets fans know all about Perez, and there seems to be an internal debate within the organization about how much he is really worth and how good he would pitch after receiving his first big contract.

Clearly, Perez doesn't have the resume of Lowe- he is nowhere near as consistent or reliable (both from start to start and within a game). But there are some positives with Ollie- he is left handed (which is big against the Phillies), eight years younger and proven to be at least somewhat reliable in big games. That being said, does the risk outweigh the reward with such an enigmatic pitcher? Let's take a closer look:

In 2008, against the Yankees, Braves, Phillies and Marlins, Ollie was 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA, including an unreal ONE run given up in 26 innings against the world champion Phillies. Pretty good, right?

However, Perez just doesn't bring that dominance from start to start. He lasted just one third of an inning against the Giants, less than two innings against the Pirates, and also got bombed against the Nationals and Mariners. Unfortunately, these games count just as much as the so called "big ones." There really seems to be no apparent rhyme or reason to Perez's numbers.

The Mets obviously understand this as well, after recently proposing a very modest three year contract worth roughly $10 million per season. This will likely not be enough to get Perez to return, as he is looking for a five year deal in the range of $14 million per season. Whether he gets that or not remains to be seen, but remember, Scott Boras is his agent.

The other starter worth mentioning for the Mets is Ben Sheets. We all know Sheets has a questionable medical history to say the least, but he also has ace-like stuff when healthy. In 2008, Sheets pitched to a 3.09 ERA while making 31 starts for Milwaukee. Unfortunately, there have been no rumors connecting Sheets to the Mets- only rumors that if anything, Sheets would probably not want to pitch in New York.

The other options just aren't anything to write home about. Jon Garland and Randy Wolf are second tier pitchers at best, and would be considerable downgrades from either Perez or Sheets. The Mets badly need a middle of the rotation starter that can give the team quality innings. Derek Lowe would have been that guy. If Minaya felt the price got too high for him, that's fine- but only if he lands Perez or Sheets at a similar or lesser price. Otherwise, he will look silly for low-balling Lowe and allowing Atlanta to snag him.

For the first time this off-season, the pressure is really on Minaya and the Mets. K-Rod fell in their laps and landing J.J. Putz was a great deal that was necessary to revamp the bullpen. But now, the waiting game for Minaya is over. Let's see how he responds now that the heat is on.

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