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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Offseason Prospectus #13: The New York Mets

Buster Olney blogged this morning about how he would fix the Mets. His solution calls for somewhere between eight and ten free agent acquisitions in the next two months, which demonstrates just how much trouble the Mets are in. After two seasons of disappointment, finishing just behind the Phillies in '07 and '08, the 2009 season was an absolute disaster. It is almost hard to fathom how a team with $150 Million payroll could lose 92 games.

Obviously, the Mets had their share of bad luck. Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner and J. J. Putz, with a combined salary of $55,750,000, all missed more than half the season with injuries. Only one Mets starting pitcher, Mike Pelfrey, made more than 25 starts, and he posted an ERA of 5.03. In their spacious new ballpark, Citi Field, no Mets hitter launched more than seven homeruns.

The good news for the Mets is that they can put 2009 behind them. With Wagner, Delgado, Putz, and others headed for free agency, over $50 Million has come off the books. However, because of the Mets somewhat uncertain financial future (the Wilpons were heavily invested in Bernie Madoff) and because the team looks somewhat unlikely to compete in the near future (not only is the roster in shambles, but their AL East rival, the Phillies and Braves, both appear to have improved), they have had an unusually hard time luring top free agents this winter. The Mets were rumored in the mix for John Lackey, Randy Wolf, Nick Johnson, and, most recently, Jason Bay, but so far none have agreed to make New York their home. If the season started tomorrow the Mets left-fielder would be Angel Pagan and their fifth starter would be Fernando Nieve (who, to be fair, were among the only pleasant surprises during the '09 season).

Free Agents:

Carlos Delgado (38) 1B
Elmer Dessens (39) RHRP
J. J. Putz (33) RHRP [Signed w/ White Sox]
Tim Redding (32) RHSP
Jeremy Reed (29) OF
Brian Schneider (33) C [Signed w/ Phillies]
Gary Sheffield (41) OF/DH
Fernando Tatis (35) 3B/1B/OF

Arbitration Eligible:

Pedro Feliciano (33) LHRP
Jeff Francouer (26) RF
Sean Green (31) RHRP
John Maine (29) RHSP
Angel Pagan (28) OF

ETA 2010?:

Nick Evans (24) 1B/OF
Fernando Martinez (21) OF
Jon Niese (23) LHSP

Omar Minaya made it quite clear at the end of the 2009 campaign that the Mets would be looking to upgrade the outfield and the rotation prior to the 2010 season. However, especially if Jason Bay has indeed rebuffed New York's best offers, they are running out of options. Perhaps the Mets could be late-comers to the bidding for Matt Holliday or Johnny Damon. If not, their best outfield option may be simply retaining the services of Gary Sheffield (823 OPS in '09). The pickings for pitching are growing even slimmer, as Lackey, Harden, and Wolf have already been signed. The Mets could enter the bidding on Joel Piniero or chase a higher risk option, either one of the Cuban defectors, Aroldis Chapman and Noel Arguelles, or a former Ace coming off a major injury, like Ben Sheets or Erik Bedard. Every one of these pitchers has a high likelihood of becoming Minaya's final mistake as Mets GM.

Unfortunately, the Mets are going to find some way to spend a lot of money this offseason and when they do they are going to try to convince their fans that they are ready to make a run at the Wild Card in 2010. My question, however, is, "What if they didn't?" I'm telling you right now: the best thing the Mets front office could do for the long-term viability of their franchise is just sit tight. The Phillies are loaded. The Braves and Marlins are dangerous. Even the Nationals are likely to be as good as they've ever been (since becoming the Nationals). It's going to be a hard road to the playoffs through the NL East next season (and for several seasons to come) and the Mets frankly don't have what's required to be there at the end of it. The Mets have no idea whether Beltran, Reyes, and Johan Santana are going to be fully healthy by Spring Training. If they aren't, their season is probably over before it even begins. Maybe, just maybe, they ought to start thinking about 2011.

The 2011 Infield:

The Mets will retain Reyes, Wright, and Castillo through 2011. This coming season they need to take a long look at Nick Evans, Daniel Murphy, and Omir Santos, rather than burying them behind fading veteran who will delay their progress (yes, I'm talking about Bengie Molina). If things don't go well, next year's free agent market will features some quality at first base (Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena) and backstop (Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez).

The 2011 Outfield:

In 2010, the Mets should dedicate themselves to the development of Pagan, Francoeur, and Fernando Martinez. Pagan and Francoeur have been around for awhile, but are still in the early stages of their prime (28 and 26, respectively). Perhaps they are just late bloomers. In the second half of '09, once he was given an everyday job, Pagan hit .302 with 36 extra-base hits (including an amazing eleven triples), an 837 OPS, and scored 47 runs in 70 games. After coming over from the Braves, Francoeur his .311 with an 836 OPS in 75 game, better numbers than he ever posted in his three full season in Atlanta.

Martinez is a major talent (877 OPS at AAA in '09, at only 20-years-old). Because both he and Pagan are capable of playing all three outfield positions (and, in fact, all the Mets outfielders are pretty strong defenders) and the Mets have a lefty, a righty, and two switch-hitters at their disposal, New York could give the youngster a big share of at-bats in 2010 via a four-way rotation. Jerry Manuel could mix and match in such a way which would give Pagan, Francoeur, and Martinez plenty of opportunities and he could also get Beltran more rest, hopefully keeping him healthy. By 2011 the Mets outfield may fix itself. If not, then they can go after Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, or Jayson Werth.

The 2011 Rotation:

The Mets may simply have misjudged the quality of John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, and Oliver Perez. If so, they're going to find themselves in quite a hole, because beyond Fernando Nieve and Jon Niese, they don't have any pitching reinforcements in the high minors. On the other hand, the Mets now play in a pitcher's paradise, which should be a major bargaining chip with both A and B level free agents. The 2011 class of starting pitchers is quite promising, including top-flight guys like Cliff Lee, Josh Beckett, and Brandon Webb, as well as a quality second tier, with Javier Vazquez, Ted Lilly, Jorge de la Rosa, Kevin Millwood, and Joe Blanton, to name just a few. If Maine, Pelfrey, and Perez don't make significant strides this coming season, by resisting the 2010 free agents, the Mets will have set aside plenty of money to be major players on the 2011 pitching market.

The 2011 Bullpen:

K-Rod is signed through 2011 (with an option for 2012), as is Ryota Igarashi, the Japanese set-up man Minaya quietly signed last week. The Mets already have some quality bullpen arms in Bobby Parnell (25), Brian Stokes (30), Pedro Feliciano (33), and Sean Green (31). Feliciano is the only one of them who will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season and his age will make him infinitely re-signable. Also, the Mets will likely have a couple of failed starters who might be converted into nice relievers.

I know full well the Mets won't heed this advice. They are going to overpay for somebody in the next month or so, and they very well may do long term damage to one of their stars by urging him to play through a lingering injury. And for what? In all likelihood the best-case scenario for the 2010 Mets is a third place finish. The 2011 Mets on the other hand, if nurtured, could be a contender.

Projected 2010 Opening Day Roster (Revised 1/1):

SS Jose Reyes (S)
2B Luis Castillo (S)
3B David Wright (R)
CF Carlos Beltran (S)
LF Jason Bay (R)
1B Daniel Murphy (L)
RF Jeff Francoeur (R)
C Bengie Molina (R) FA
SP Johan Santana (L)

SP Mike Pelfrey (R)
SP John Maine (R)
SP Oliver Perez (L)
SP Fernando Nieve (R)

CL Francisco Rodriguez (R)
SU Ryoto Igarashi (R)
SU Brian Stokes (R)
LOOGY Pedro Feliciano (L)
MR Sean Green (R)
MR Bobby Parnell (R)
SWING Kelvim Escobar (R)

C Henry Blanco (R)
C Omir Santos (R)
2B/SS Alex Cora (L)
1B/OF Nick Evans (R)
OF Angel Pagan (S)

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