ESPN's Buster Olney brought up an interesting point in his Monday chat:
Q: I'm really hoping the Mets can poach a starter during the season. Who would be the most likely candidates -- Peavy, Lee?
A: Brad Penny might be a perfect guy, Dave -- the Red Sox might soon be willing to deal him, he'll be relatively inexpensive, and pitching in the NL, he'll be effective. He might not be a Cy Young caliber pitcher right now, but he's decent and might cost the Mets a Grade B prospect or two.
The Mets' rotation features Johan Santana and little else; Oliver Perez recently was placed on the disabled list and will pitch out of the bullpen upon his return, and Livan Hernandez is a year older and a year more ineffective than he was when he was released by the Minnesota Twins last summer. Mike Pelfrey may yet be useful, but his ERA is 5.46 and he has twice as many walks as strikeouts; John Maine's 4.54 ERA is good for second-best on the staff.
Penny, meanwhile, has a 6.90 ERA so far this season but quality starts in four of his six starts. On top of that, unlike Pelfrey and Perez, he actually has more strikeouts than walks so far this season. He hasn't been sensational, but he's been serviceable -- and the Mets, who can't afford to miss the playoffs for a third straight year, would be more than willing to trade a prospect or two for someone serviceable.
If that type of trade goes through -- it wouldn't happen until mid-June, probably -- the low-risk signing of Penny would look even better than it did in the offseason. Consider the laundry list of benefits the Red Sox would reap from the $2 or $3 million they'd end up having spent (assuming the Mets make the trade without money changing hands):
* Penny would have made at least four quality starts -- and while he's due for a hiccup or two, there's no reason to expect that he can't put together a couple more quality starts in May and June;
* Penny would have given John Smoltz a chance to work his way back slowly with no urgency and no real timetable;
* Penny would have given Clay Buchholz a chance to regain his confidence without the pressure of having to pitch against the Yankees and Rays;
* Penny would have yielded a midlevel prospect -- a bullpen arm like Eddie Kunz, if they're lucky, or a young starting pitcher like Scott Moviel -- at a time when young pitchers are like currency. The more young arms you can stockpile, after all, the less money you'll have to spend on pitchers on the free-agent market. ("The price of bullpen arms has kind of gone crazy," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said over the weekend.)
That's a pretty good return on that investment.
The Red Sox will hang onto Penny for as long as they can -- to give Smoltz a chance to get through the roadblock he just hit in his rehab and to give Buchholz a chance to refine everything he still has to refine.
But if either Smoltz or Buchholz is banging on the door by the middle of June, well, all Theo Epstein has to do is call Omar Minaya and cash in his chips.