11:46 am Jun. 12, 20121
Back in 2010, the epic mishandling of Jenrry Mejia, pitching prospect for the New York Mets, provided a lead exhibit for how dysfunctional baseball operations had become with Omar Minaya as general manager.
Mejia was, at the time, the Mets' premier, and really only, significant pitching prospect. Armed with an exceptional fastball he threw for strikes and good breaking pitches that he struggled to command, he dominated at high-A ball, and showed mixed results at Double-A Binghamton in the second half of 2009.
He received an invitation to major league camp in 2010, but such invites are usually to reward a fast-rising prospect, rather than a precursor to making the big league club immediately. No one thought it a good idea to promote a pitcher still learning to throw a second pitch and master Double-A. No one thought it a good idea to take a pitcher on a path to become a starter and make him into a reliever.
Except Jerry Manuel, the team's beleaguered manager, who kept making noise about getting Mejia into his bullpen. For Manuel, 2010 loomed as a make-or-break season. He had his job to worry about.
Incredibly, Mejia broke camp with the Mets. And while Manuel had begged for Mejia, he then used him sparingly. So the best pitching prospect in the organization was reduced to mop-up duty, and logged just 27 2/3 innings by late June, giving him virtually no time to develop any further as a pitcher. Incredibly, Manuel described the plan for Mejia as a "daily debate" within the organization.
The Mets proceeded to send him down in late June, desperately needing another starting pitcher. But along the way, his arm started giving him trouble, and he made only three September starts for the Mets in 2010, then broke down completely in 2011, requiring Tommy John Surgery on his elbow.
Fast forward to 2012, and Mejia has put in the requisite year of rehab. He's back in Buffalo, he's pitching well, and he's been starting every fifth day.
And now, under the leadership of general manager Sandy Alderson, the Mets are sending Mejia ... to the bullpen.
There are several reasons, though none of them are great ones.
Mejia's delivery is unorthodox, and having had a surgery already, the Mets seem to feel he'll hold up better as a reliever. But pitchers break down all the time. Tim Lincecum slipped in the draft due to his delivery, and though he's struggling in 2012, he's certainly been more valuable to the Giants as a starter than he'd be as a reliever. As for Joba Chamberlain, moving him to the bullpen didn't save his arm, either.
The move also will limit Mejia's innings in 2012. He's thrown 35 so far; estimating liberally for the rest of the year in the bullpen, he'd probably get up to around 70-75. With the idea that greatly increasing a pitcher's innings year-over-year is potentially problematic, that rules Mejia out of starting for the Mets in 2013, too, which has a knock-on effect for 2014, etc. It's hard to go back from this.
The team does have other starting pitching prospects now, from Matt Harvey to Jeurys Familia to Zack Wheeler. But these prospects are so volatile, and so fragile, that willingly giving up on one to help in the starting rotation seems like a huge mistake. Remember when the Yankees were going to have three anchors in Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain? Remember Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson and Jason Isringhausen for the Mets? The rate of attrition is extremely high.
It's not even clear that this move makes sense for 2012. Sure, the bullpen is a problem for the Mets, but they are also one starter injury away from Jeremy Hefner in the rotation, which isn't optimal. And Tuesday night's starter, Chris Young, is 13 months removed from shoulder surgery, with a total of four starts logged in each of the past two seasons.
The Mets are generally making better decisions about their personnel now than they did in 2010. But pushing Mejia into the bullpen now makes about as much sense as it did back then.