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Staffing issues

Call to arms unanswered, Mets' rotation unsettled

Posted: Wednesday January 17, 2007 11:16PM; Updated: Thursday January 18, 2007 11:34AM
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Mike Pelfrey, the Mets' top draft pick in '05, is expected to win a spot in the rotation.
Mike Pelfrey, the Mets' top draft pick in '05, is expected to win a spot in the rotation.
Chuck Solomon/SI
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New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya is known as one of baseball's best deal-makers, but he's been striking out regularly this offseason in his quest for another starting pitcher.

The Mets and Oakland A's have not spoken about a trade involving either Danny Haren or Rich Harden (or Joe Blanton, for that matter) since just before Christmas. But the teams have talked enough for Mets to understand that it will take well more than just Lastings Milledge and Aaron Heilman to land either Haren or Harden. That was merely the requested package to rent Barry Zito last summer for three months.

Breathless, incorrect Internet reports recently suggested the teams were close to a deal. But while those Internet reports were circulating, A's general manager Billy Beane was vacationing in Europe. The reality is, the Mets and A's have made limited progress since SI.com reported way back at the Winter Meetings that the team's top officials were about to meet regarding Harden and the A's two other top young pitchers.

Mets officials got the impression from those early December talks with Beane that they'd have to overwhelm him with a prospect package. Like many teams, the Mets are particularly reticent to trade their top tier prospects now. Beane definitely likes Milledge, a 21-year-old with raw tools whose stock dropped after his brief but rocky first foray in the majors. And while Beane also likes Heilman, he has also observed that Heilman has been a middle reliever for the Mets. A fine, young middle reliever, but a middle reliever nonetheless (Heilman would, however, start for the A's).

Mets people have the impression that Beane won't consider a multi-prospect package for Harden or Haren unless the second of several components to go with Milledge is someone of greater value than Heilman -- perhaps Mike Pelfrey or Phil Humber. Milledge and Pelfrey are the very combination the Mets wouldn't trade for Dontrelle Willis last year. The Mets' two other top prospects are both outfielders, Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez, which is one reason they'd consent to trading Milledge in the right deal. But while Milledge could be bait in a deal for the right pitcher, the Mets have deemed Pelfrey nearly untouchable.

No one can blame Beane for asking for a haul for either Harden or Haren (the Mets actually seem to prefer Haren, who has four years to go at a ridiculously light $11 million). Considering the age and talent of Harden and Haren, any interested team, in the words of one AL executive, should expect to "back up the truck.''

While Minaya was unable to land Daisuke Matsuzaka, Barry Zito, Jeff Suppan or Randy Wolf via free agency, or Freddy Garcia, Javier Vazquez or Jon Garland (plus the Oakland guys) via trade, Mets people are saying Minaya feels "very comfortable'' with how things stand.

The Mets are also noting how they made it to Game 7 of the NLCS with the same starters they have now. And they're saying that Minaya was encouraged by Pedro Martinez's progress at mini-camp (the hope is he's ready by July, though they know nothing's guaranteed after shoulder surgery) and that Minaya won't do anything more unless it "falls into his lap.'' That means there isn't much hope to land anyone of import at this late date.

Minaya always has believed in the importance of the bullpen -- he and Bobby Valentine were big proponents of the 'pen, dating back to their days with the Rangers -- and the acquisition of Ambiorix Burgos and Scott Schoeneweis fortifies that area. But competitors see a very iffy rotation, starting with a pair of 40-year-olds, the still solid Tom Glavine and the sometimes brittle Orlando Hernandez. Then there's reclamation project Oliver Perez and second-year surprise John Maine, with Pelfrey, Humber and veterans Dave Williams and the recently signed Jorge Sosa competing for the No. 5 job. From here, too, it looks like they could still use a starter.

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