03.15.10

No, Jenrry: Why The Mets Are (Foolishly) Mulling Turning a Pitching Phenom Into a Setup Guy

Posted in Baseball at 2:02 pm by

In a relief appearance over the weekend, 20-year-old Mets pitching prospect Jenrry Mejia gave up his first run of the Spring. It didn’t necessarily register as a big deal, given alleged number three starter John Maine’s far shittier outing on the same day, but the rest of Mejia’s Spring is going to bear as much watching as Maine’s or Oliver Perez’s. The difference, as pertains to the phenom, is that a lot of fans will be hoping that Mejia will be hit as hard as Maine will be, and that he’ll start handing out walks at an Oliverian rate. This is a strange thing, obviously.

In the long run, as someone who has chosen to put a not-insignificant portion of my warm weather leisure time in the hands of The Family Wilpon, I certainly hope that Jenrry Mejia will be a very good pitcher. During Spring Training, Mejia has been just that, and while facing Albert Pujols in an actual game is obviously a different thing than striking out Nook Logan in the seventh inning of a split squad game on the space coast, Mejia has admittedly been pretty fun to watch in the moment and exceedingly easy to daydream about as a 2011 or 2012 member of the Mets’ rotation. He’s basically a lanky kid with a dazzling cut fastball attached at the moment, people who know about stuff like this have Mejia down as a potential Big League ace. Again, maybe not for a year or two — Mejia has only thrown a handful of innings above Class A, and despite impressing everyone with his arm, he was pretty much torched in the Arizona Fall League — but probably in time to team with Johan Santana atop a very good rotation on a team that could conceivably play those elusive Meaningful Games in September. After last season, most Mets fans would take Non-Heartrending Games In Early August, so that’s not nothing, that promise. So why pull for Mejia to crash and burn in Spring Training?

Well, two reasons. One is that, despite the aforementioned stuff about how he’s barely pitched above Double-A and that his six innings of good Spring Training ball are outweighed by a bunch of other innings suggesting he’s not really ready, the Mets are apparently leaning towards bringing Mejia north with the club as a set-up guy. With that in mind, the team has announced that they will use Mejia strictly as a reliever for the rest of Spring Training; he’ll pitch as a starter in Double-A if he doesn’t make the club, once he gets stretched out.

The Mets are evidently doing this in the hopes that eventually Mejia could become either a closer or (presumably) some Island of Dr. Moreau non-starter/non-reliever in the mold of Yankees party beast and pitch count poster person Joba Chamberlain. Given that the Mets are messing with the potential development of a blue chip version of arguably baseball’s most valuable commodity, and given that everyone from Disgusting Virgin Stat Nerds to the average baseball fan understands that 200 innings over the course of a season from a starter are more valuable than even the best 70 innings from a closer, this is strange. Which is to say that most everyone who cares, up to and including Metsblog’s blurt-y italic-jockey Michael Baron thinks this is bullshit.

So, besides the fact that this is the Mets and that the choice to rush Mejia is probably a part of Omar Minaya’s ongoing Citifield installation art project, why would they do this? Well, “This is the Mets” carries a lot of (vague, elusive) significance for me, but I think Patrick Flood nails the real reason in this post at Exile on 126th Street. Here’s Flood:

Now normally, on most teams, there exists a check-and-balance system to keep lame-duck managers from making lame-duck decisions. Lame-duck decisions like this one. Someone in the Mets organization should be using their better judgment to take Jerry™s shiny new toy away, because he might break it on his way out the door. Someone needs to say that Jenrry Mejia should start in the AA rotation because that™s a better decision for the future of the franchise. That someone should be Omar Minaya, who is the general manager. You know, the one with full autonomy and stuff.

Except Omar Minaya is also fighting for his job this season. Meaning he is also a lame-duck, prone to making lame-duck decisions. His seat may not be quite as hot as Jerry™s, but it™s probably uncomfortably warm.

So the two people making decisions about the 2010 Mets roster may be far more concerned with April 2010, than 2011 and beyond. So while you and I and other Met fans can look at Jenrry Mejia being turned into a reliever before our eyes and scream: œNO! WHY CAN™T YOU SEE WHY THIS IS A BAD IDEA! HE™S NOT GOING TO THROW ENOUGH INNINGS THIS YEAR! HE™S NOT GOING TO LEARN TO CONTROL HIS SECONDARY PITCHES! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? STOP LETTING JERRY DO WEIRD THINGS!, the Mets brass can™t or won™t.

And this is how fans have wound up pulling for the best pitching prospect the team has developed in over a decade to get rocked — because that rocking is about the only thing that can save him from a royal Mets-style fucking up. When the Rangers brought up the electric Neftali Feliz at the end of last season to serve as a set-up guy, they were in the midst of a pennant race and very clear about Feliz’s eventual future as a starter. The Mets are mulling a similar move with Mejia, only with the urgency of pennant contention replaced by the urgency of Jerry Manuel not wanting to have to get a studio job at WGN in July, and all while entertaining the possibility of turning a potential Clayton Kershaw-style ace into Guillermo Mota. Yeah, this is definitely some sort of performance art piece.

4 Responses to “No, Jenrry: Why The Mets Are (Foolishly) Mulling Turning a Pitching Phenom Into a Setup Guy”

  1. Marc says:

    It’s gotten almost to the point that reading the comments on MetsBlog is futile.

    Everything is Omar and Jerry’s fault (which I’m not disputing completely), to the point that even when things go well (ie, F-Mart and Ike Davis having great springs against no-name useless pitchers), it becomes a shit-on-our-team fest.

    I’m as negative as the next guy when it comes to the Mets, but the incessant whining by our fan base (on blogs, at least) has gotten absurd.

    All that said: I agree with the sentiment that maybe Jenrry shits the bed and doesn’t go North with the club. On the other hand, if you do think we’re a competitor for at least the Wild Card and all we need to do is hold-the-fort til Reyes and Beltran return.. then having Jenrry, F-Mart, Ike Davis, whomever is the hot hand, etc start April with the big team isn’t a bad idea. After all, if the Mets won one more April or May game in 2007 and 2008, they would have won the division. Those games do count for more than just saving Jerry’s job.

  2. David Roth says:

    True enough, Marc, on the April and May wins. And that’s a point that Toby Hyde makes in the TedQuarters link above — that the immediate job of the team is to put the best six dudes in the bullpen and use them as intelligently and effectively as possible. I sure would love to see that happen. I’d also love to see Martinez replace Francoeur by midseason, or even now.

    But I don’t think the Mets really have a shot at contending for the Wild Card, and while I’d hate to see the team chuck their chance at that right away, what I’d really hate — like even more than the 80-82 season I’m expecting and at this point actively looking forward to — is to see Mejia wind up getting stunted by misuse, or getting hurt trying to do something he’s never done and struggling to become the pitcher he’s clearly capable of becoming, a la Joba. It is simply easier to find a competent seventh or eighth inning guy than it is to find an ace, and it’s bad business (in terms of starting his free agency clock, which I personally don’t really care much about ) and bad baseball (in terms of deploying his talent most effectively) to waste what could be a potential ace in a less-valuable role. The most important thing should be Mejia’s development, especially since no one really thinks that this year’s team is the one that’s going to win a World Series. Next year might be different, especially if the three potential stars the team has in the minors are ready to go by this time in 2011.

    And anyway, the bigger point is that immediate goals need to be balanced with longer-term ones. This is ordinarily where the GM and the manager would be in conflict, and if Flood maybe puts it a bit too pointedly in his semi-rant, it does seem like the usual check-and-balance incentives for the GM aren’t working as they should. I’d put that on the Wilps, who created this whole goofy organizational circumstance.

  3. Marc says:

    I think I agree with everything you wrote in your comment; I’m not confident that the Mets are WC contenders with the kids playing, so I certainly wouldn’t put them out there on April whatever.

    On the other hand, if somehow Oliver Perez and Maine turn the corner in the next start or two and look awesome… and then Reyes is slated to come back within 2 weeks of opening Day… well… MAYBE, I change my mind?

  4. Shamik says:

    Yes! There is no harm in having him start in the minors. Relievers are a dime a dozen, and the Mets have a wealth of relief pitchers as is. I mean, its not like Mejia’s got a tremendous track record or anything. He’s been rocked in the minors and has only had a handful of good innings in MLB ST. Let him start in the minors and develop his pitches. If the Mets are in contention later in the season bring him in to get MLB exposure and if he continues to excel, keep him in the rotation for next year. No need what so ever to bring him into the MLB this year.

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