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.