The now-invincible Mets, after three weeks of extreme vincibility, resume this evening with Chris Young on the mound. But I’d like to direct your attention instead to this piece of news: Brian Bannister has no plan to pitch this season, after fleeing Japan following the earthquake/tsunami.
Bannister, you will remember, was once a Met. He surprised everyone, especially the presumed fifth starter Aaron Heilman, by winning Heilman’s job with a stellar spring training in 2006. But after a leg injury cost him most of the 2006 season, the Mets traded Bannister to the Royals that December for Ambiorix Burgos, a hard-throwing reliever.
Throughout 2007, Omar Minaya and the Mets took a lot of criticism for this deal, thanks to Bannister’s 3.87 ERA as a starter, Burgos’ arm injury, and the 2007 Mets seeming to need just one reliable starter to help them make the playoffs.
But that is the kind of deal you always want the Mets to make. Burgos didn’t make it, but he struck out a ton of hitters. He was entering his age-23 season when the Mets got him, and pitchers who strike out a batter an inning in around 140 major league innings at age 21-22 don’t grow on trees.
Unfortunately, Burgos will be remembered primarily for his ability to hit, not miss, and for making the Mets the only organization in MLB history with more than one Ambiorix (who can forget Ambiorix Concepcion?!?).
Bannister was already 26, didn’t miss many bats, and his subsequent downfall was pretty predictable if you looked beyond his superficial 2007 numbers. For the record: a 5.58 ERA over three seasons from 2008-2010.
As strange as it sounds, I wonder to this day how the Mets would have fared with Aaron Heilman, starter. He’d been promised the starting gig, and it was clear it was what he wanted to do. Heilman is a bright guy, and naturally overthought his relief role. The Mets made strange choices, deciding Brian Lawrence and a month-rested Phil Humber were better choices to start games than simply stretching out Heilman. The Mets weren’t exactly awash in pitching alternatives in 2008, either.
It is easy to say that Heilman was under contract to the Mets; if he wanted to relieve, too bad. But the Mets have a responsibility, as all teams do, to put their players in position to succeed. That responsibility isn’t some obligation to the players; it is in the team’s best interest, since more success comes of it.
It may not be a popular position, but I believe that handled differently, Aaron Heilman could still be in the Met rotation, pitching well. One thing’s for sure: he was a better bet to have an extended major league career than Bannister or Burgos. And, like it or not, he is.