Baseball is closer than we think. Here in New York yesterday, the temperature got up to 78 degrees. On February 21. Exhibition games start tomorrow. The Mets have a small controversy. Heck, it may as well be June.
It’s that mini-controversy we’re going to discuss. As spring training moves along apace, the usual articles and puff-pieces on TV have sprung up: Dominic Smith is in the best shape of his life, Juan Lagares has a new swing, we’re all sad about the end of David Wright’s career, etc. There was a new wrinkle yesterday. On SNY’s Daily News Live! show yesterday, there was a discussion about a NYDN story on Zack Wheeler being used out of the bullpen. “Front office” sources told Kristie Ackert that was going to be the plan. Manager Mickey Callaway rebutted that statement, saying categorically that Wheeler will be a starter. The DNL! panel then made up that there may be a rift between the front office and Callaway. “Not a good way to start,” said Bob Raissman, a hint of glee in his tone. Looking at the merits from a baseball standpoint, though, that move may make some sense: Wheeler’s fastball velocity definitely would play in short bursts out of the ‘pen. The downside, of course, is that no one knows if his arm would be up to the task of pitching back-to-back days. He’s never had to do it in his pro career and to ask that of him while he continues to recover is playing a somewhat dangerous game with his health.
As the Daily News piece states, this was all precipitated by the Mets’ acquisition of Jason Vargas last week. Vargas would appear to be a welcome addition to the pitching staff. He’s a left-hander and his first-half performance last season led to his first All-Star game appearance. With the well-publicized precarious health of the staff in addition to Wheeler, he provides some nice insurance should one or more hurler fall away again. And if the pipe dream comes true, if everyone stays healthy, the talk is that he can be a valuable swing-man, both a starter and a reliever. The downside to that is that Vargas also hasn’t done it that much in his career. Since he started getting regular innings in 2009, he’s made 217 starts, nine relief appearances – all of those in 2009. That’s besides the fact that last year was his first healthy season since 2014. Over here, it looks like he would be less than ideal to fill that role.
Every successful team needs someone who can give you long stretches out of the bullpen and maybe make the occasional start or two – Darren Oliver’s 2006 season comes to mind – and the Mets are searching for that right now. From here, it looks like they need to search elsewhere. Neither Vargas nor Wheeler is perfect for the spot. Is there someone else in camp who could take it on? Possibly.
We have to wait until the next usual story about someone who’s been opening eyes in camp.
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