Let’s just get this part out of the way: The Mets have issues. Lots of issues. But, as if Jose Reyes’ thyroid, repeated late-season meltdowns, questionable ownership finances, and an assistant general manager turning into Hulk Hogan weren’t bad enough, now this appears:
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – If Jenrry Mejia is assigned to the Mets’ Double-A team, he’s not going to be stretched out enough to immediately contribute in the Binghamton rotation. Jerry Manuel is determined to begin using Mejia in short and frequent relief spurts, to gauge how he reacts to pitching in that capacity, the Daily News has learned. The expectation is Mejia will remain in big-league camp through the final week working as a reliever.
The scariest part of this is not that Jerry Manuel is evidently making decisions on prospects. It’s that Omar Minaya is either in complete agreement or is totally indifferent to the situation at hand. Minaya’s job is to handle the team’s present and future assets with care and diligence. Manuel’s job is to manage the players assembled by Minaya and provide input on the margins, not to decide in autonomous fashion what capacity the team’s best pitching prospect should be used during spring. Neither is doing their job.
This becomes less of a possibility and more of a certainty once you realize who we’re talking about. Save the comparisons to Neftali Feliz and David Price. Neither began the season in their respective Major League team’s bullpen and both had more experience starting. Those two situations were of special circumstance (that circumstance being a heated playoff run). The Mets aren’t doing this to limit Mejia’s innings or propel them towards the playoffs. Well, they might actually be doing it for the latter, but more on that in a moment.
This is all tempting because Mejia is a great arm. Keith Law had his fastball sitting in the 93-96 range with cutting action and noted his overall repertoire as “top-of-the-rotation stuff” – big praise for a 20-year-old with a little over 150 innings of experience outside of short-season ball. Baseball America ranked Mejia as the Mets’ top prospect and quoted catcher Josh Thole as saying that the movement on Mejia’s heater convinced batters that it was a slider. They also note that Manuel watched Mejia during Arizona Fall League action to gauge whether he could be of relief help in 2010.
Could Mejia jump to the Majors in three weeks and succeed? Probably. He’d probably pitch quite well out of the bullpen. He has a fastball so hot that it removes the wrinkles from opposing hitters’ shirts. He could really dial that baby up even more in limited action. He might just be the best set-up man in the National League. Heck, maybe the next Mariano Rivera. And then what?
Well, then the Mets enter 2011, which happens to be the final year that Francisco Rodriguez is guaranteed a paycheck. It’s also the final year that Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and Luis Castillo are under contract. It’s a big year. It could be the final year they have this nucleus to really go for it before drastically altering the look of the roster. So, maybe they move Mejia to the rotation. Maybe he hits the ground running and never looks back. Or maybe, like Joba Chamberlain, he has a few hiccups moving to the rotation permanently, and rather than sending him down, they send him to the bullpen where he once again turns the eighth inning into Hades for opposing hitters. And then what?
Well, then the Mets enter 2012 and Mejia is their closer. And then what?
Well, then the Mets enter 2013 and Mejia is still their closer. And so on.
Yes, that entire scenario is derived from a lack of confidence in the Mets and their ability to properly handle the situation. Did it fall down a slippery slope and is it a bit melodramatic? Yes, most likely. But at the same time, if they place Mejia in the pen it will open Pandora’s Box moving forward. More concisely: It sets the table for confirmation bias when Mejia is moved back to the rotation.
This isn’t Earl Weaver with Dennis Martinez, Wayne Garland, or Scott McGregor. Those guys had hundreds of minor league innings before Weaver broke them in as a long reliever. This is reckless handling of a long-term asset in order to save Manuel and Minaya’s jobs. Maybe that’s too harsh, but these guys have not earned the benefit of the doubt.