The New York Times’ Ben Shipgel attempts to tie together the speculation swirling around Mets pitcher Aaron Heilman, who depending on your perspective is either Billy Wagner’s set up man, the rotation’s 4th or 5th starter or one of the club’s most bits of trade bait.

Aaron Heilman recently concluded his winter-ball season in the Dominican Republic, where he continued a superb year that was interrupted in October. He went 4-1 with a 2.27 earned run average for Licey, but his six appearances came as a starter, adding to the intrigue as to what role he will fill for the Mets next season.

Will he be back in the bullpen, where his statistics in the second half of 2005 – he had a startling 0.68 E.R.A. after the All-Star Game break – might make it difficult for the Mets to put him anywhere else? Or could he be placed back in the starting rotation, where he pitched a complete game one-hitter and a seven-inning two-hitter early in the season before he was bumped into the bullpen? Or could he possibly be traded, even though Heilman, a former No. 1 pick, has become a valued asset?

Mets seem to envision him as a vital piece of the 2006 team, whatever his role, and are clearly not eager to trade him. But other teams are asking about him.

In early September, Heilman approached the Mets about playing winter ball because his new bullpen role had limited him to his fewest innings since 2000, when he was a junior at Notre Dame. The Mets agreed, and Heilman went to the Dominican Republic. Now he is back, his arm stretched out, his curiosity at a peak. He could be next in line to contend for a slot in the rotation. He could be the main setup man for the expensive new closer, Billy Wagner. Or he could be a trading chip, even if the Mets prefer not to move him.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark opines that not only did the Mets overpay for Carlos Delgado, they were essentially competing with themselves.

The Mets were under the impression there were a number of teams battling for Delgado. But when Rumblings investigators checked around, we determined that the Orioles expressed early interest and then never made another serious overture. And Seattle was only interested if it could find a way to move money (possibly by dealing Richie Sexson). And the Angels weren’t ready to do anything until they knew whether they could sign Paul Konerko.

So in truth, it appears there really wasn’t another team making any kind of serious run at Delgado at the time. But Omar Minaya isn’t a guy who likes to sit around and wait to make anything happen, in case you hadn’t noticed.

I’d like to know more about the official uniform for Rumblings investigators.