(Mets middle reliever Aaron Heilman, in his most typical 2008 pose)

“I doubt any knowledgeable baseball person truly believes Aaron Heilman is as bad as his 2008 line indicates,” insists Baseball Handyman‘s Mark Newman (link taken from Repoz and Baseball Think Factory), effectively calling me a cretin. “It’s time for the Mets to stop jerking Heilman around and give him a shot in the role he desperately wants to fill,” protests the Notre Dame product’s (last remaining) fan.

With the free agent market spiraling out of control when it comes to pitching, inserting Heilman into the rotation from a financial and organizational standpoint seems like a no-brainer. With him being under team control for two more years and likely to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of two million after arbitration, selling low on Heilman before giving him a shot is nothing more than idiocy.

Would anybody doubt Heilman’s ability to post a 4.40 ERA and 1.30 WHIP if allowed to throw 150+ innings? I certainly wouldn’t since both statistics are below both his career averages and current 2009 projections, albeit as a reliever expected to throw between seventy and eighty innings.

As a supporter of the Mets signing Derek Lowe for his consistency, remember Lowe followed up his lone 5+ ERA season with four, sub-4.00 seasons. Now I’m certainly not saying Heilman is as good as Lowe, I simply remember the Red Sox faithful running him out of town into the arms of the Dodgers in a decision the Red Sox have come to regret. With a thin farm system, the Mets just can’t afford to let Heilman walk for a song.

The best comparison I can make to the Heilman situation is what the Cardinals did with Braden Looper. After a disappointing 2005 with the Mets, Looper signed with the Cardinals and was converted to the rotation after a year in their pen. Many questioned Looper’s repertoire and whether his stuff, and arm could hold up. The results? 24 wins and 374 innings pitched over two seasons, the conversion of Braden Looper to starter will earn him extra millions and extend his career well into the next decade.

It’s an interesting theory and I’ve long wondered how Heilman might fare if he was afforded a larger margin of error.  Given that we’re hearing little of Mets interest in Sabathia, Burnett or Lowe, it remains hard to fathom the organization’s refusal to consider Heilman as a 4th or 5th option in the starting rotation.