Mets ace Pedro Martinez has yet to throw off a mound this spring and is still ailing from chronic pain in his right foot.
Those who have followed the career of Pedro Martinez know the outstanding right-hander is no stranger to wear and tear. It's something the Mets were willing to gamble on when they signed the right-hander last season to a three-year, $38 million contract.
But at 34, there's increasing concern over his big right toe, which is preventing him from fully pushing off the pitching rubber. According to a story on ESPN.com, the front office has been nervously monitoring the situation since September, when his fastball was down to 86 mph. Described as "background pain," he's dealt with the discomfort for two years, but it finally caught up with him in 2005 when it cut his season short in September.
Five months, a cortisone shot and a special shoe by Nike later, the pain still lingers. And now there's a new pain: headaches among Mets nation.
"I think I speak for most Mets fans when I say that yes, the pitching rotation is a big concern right now," said Ryan McConnell of Always Amazin' Mets blog in an e-mail to Beerleaguer. "Just the possibility of Jose Lima replacing Pedro Martinez in the rotation keeps me up at night."
Pedro was supposed to pitch for the Dominicans in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, but it's highly possible he could miss the entire tournament. He will miss the opening round for sure and his chances of pitching in the tournament hang at 50-50, an official from the player’s association said.
The Mets would rather he didn't and continue to work out with the team in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where they can keep an eye on perhaps their most important piece in a season of high expectations. They had the deepest pockets in baseball this winter, acquiring closer Billy Wagner, Carlos Delgado and also catcher Paul LoDuca, to go with Carlos Beltran, the prize of last season’s free agent class. They are expected to be serious contenders for the division title, perhaps more.
But for all the high-profile moves, the team is still weak with back-end starting pitching, and is getting long of tooth at the top. GM Omar Minaya traded both Jae Seo and Kris Benson this offseason, moves that have been criticized among Internet circles for leaving the pitching staff too thin.
“If you wanted to be pessimistic – something a lot of Phillies and Mets fans can relate to - you'd see a Mets starting rotation featuring a brittle Pedro Martinez, an old Tom Glavine, an unproven Aaron Heilman, a mediocre Steve Trachsel, and an erratic Victor Zambrano," said McConnell. "If/when one of their starters goes down, the Mets have uninspiring/ unproven choices like Jose Lima, Darren Oliver, Alay Soler, Brian Bannister, and John Maine waiting in the wings."
Like the Phillies, the Mets should have little problem putting up run support. Along with the Braves, who are defending the division title for a 14th-consecutive time, the Mets are viewed as the team to beat, balanced by an upgraded bullpen and offense.
"Their hitting, which ranked seventh in the league last year, should be markedly better with Carlos Delgado replacing Mientikiewicz, a healthy Beltran (hopefully) rebounding, and both Wright and Reyes maturing," McConnell said. "And their bullpen, anchored by your Judas, Billy Wagner, and featuring a collection of solid arms (Sanchez, Bradford, Julio), should be very solid."
However, the reality of Pedro's health, the uncertainty of an aging staff and loss of two key pitchers, has dampened the state of Mets euphoria ... but only slightly. After all, it seems as if the baseball world has waited an eternity for Pedro to truly break down. We're still waiting.
"So, like always, injuries will likely be what determines the Mets success this year," McConnell said. "But considering Mazzone and Furcal's departure from the Braves, I'm as optimistic as I've been in quite some time about the Mets chances of actually taking the division this year."