Over the line, Smokey

We’ve got four or five guys that I would call ‘above the line,’ that we could go into the season with, in the rotation.

Sandy Alderson.

This comment led to a lot of speculation about where exactly “the line” is. I doubt Alderson was letting us on to the team’s internal calculations or whatever. He probably just meant the Mets have four or five guys they consider Major League starters — Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey, Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee and Johan Santana.

And obviously that’s got people fired up, because people want to argue that Mike Pelfrey is less than a viable member of a Major League rotation. Pelfrey had a bad year, but for reasons discussed three months ago, he should be offered arbitration and brought back in 2012.

Is that rotation a great one? Hardly. But is it so bad it will single-handedly prevent the Mets from competing in 2012?

Not at all. If you’re looking for an example of a team that can win with a good offense and a bunch of innings-eater types, look no further than the reigning World Champions.

I know Chris Carpenter has the “True No. 1 Ace Bigtime Frontline Show-Pony” label everyone craves in a pitcher, but Carpenter posted an 105 ERA+ in 2011. The Cardinals’ best pitcher on the season was Kyle Lohse, who sported a 107 ERA+.

Mostly, the Cardinals got innings from their starters. Lohse, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook each turned in over 180 frames, and the 36-year-old Carpenter was good for 237 1/3. By ERA, Cardinals starters were eighth in the National League. The Mets’ group finished 10th.

The Cardinals made the playoffs because they had by far the best offense in the National League and a pitching staff good enough to keep the team in games. Remember: The object is only to score more runs than your opponents. There’s no real set formula for the way you have to do that.

So yeah, while the Mets’ pitching staff could stand to improve, signing free-agent starters is almost always a terrible idea. And since any upgrade available via trade would likely cost the Mets a ton in terms of young players, their best approach for 2012 is to try to improve the team’s offense and defense and hope the pitching holds together.

Of course, it’s going to take a lot of work and a couple of big bounce-back years for the Mets’ offense in 2012 to hit anything like the way the Cardinals did in 2011. But that’s at least easier to imagine than Niese, Pelfrey and Gee pitching like Halladay, Hamels and Lee.

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