As July 2006 came to an end, the Mets were as dominant as any team in baseball. Part of the reason was their dominant setup man, Duaner Sanchez. Then, in the early morning hours of July 31, Sanchez separated his shoulder in an early-morning cab accident.
Sanchez never regained his dominance and was released today.
And up to now, the Mets have not regained their dominance, either.
The bullpen, one of the team's strongest areas before the accident, devolved into the Mets' weakest part. The Mets were never able to find a setup man to replace Sanchez, finally having to trade for a closer (J.J. Putz) making a lot more than setup-man money.
And the first move the Mets made to replace Sanchez, trading for Roberto Hernandez, resulted in the Mets trading away Xavier Nady. More than two seasons later, the Mets still do not have a righthanded outfield bat to replace Nady.
With both the setup man and the righthanded outfielder, Omar Minaya's first plan was to acquire someone over 40, first Hernandez for relief and then Moises Alou for the outfield. Omar's age movement only made things worse.
So Sanchez' injury ruined his career, the Mets' bullpen and damaged their lineup. Pretty expensive late-night snack.
The only positive came from the thrown-in in the Nady-Hernandez deal - Oliver Perez.
We'll never know how the Mets' fortunes might have changed had the accident never happened. Desperate for starting pitching, the Mets started Perez, who had gone 3-13 that year, twice in the NLCS. Perez pitched six innings of one-run ball in Game 7 (with a lot of help from Endy Chavez). He gave up five runs in his other start, but won. Perez was not great, but the alternatives would have probably been a lot worse.
In 2007, Sanchez might have saved the bullpen down the stretch, but the Mets would have had to come up with a way to replace Ollie's 15 wins. If they had done so with someone from the minors, they would have had less to offer in trade at the end of the year for Johan Santana. And if they still needed to replace Ollie by the end of the year, with two rotation slots open, they might have been more wary to package so much pitching for Santana.
Ultimately, it's hard to say a setup man is more important than a starter. But if ever someone could make that claim, it was Duaner Sanchez in the first four months of 2006. Goodbye, Duaner, and good luck.