As the season slips further and further away, the Mets need to start looking forward to the direction that the team will take next season. It's disappointing to see how disastrous this season became and how quickly it unraveled in front of our eyes. The crippling injuries damaged the core but more importantly they revealed major holes in the infrastructure of the franchise. Watching $90 million of the $140 million payroll sit on the disabled list is indescribably frustrating.
The question on every Mets fan's mind is "How can the team be fixed?" More importantly, can the Mets be fixed?
It's going to be a tough road ahead. The team is on the brink of the abyss and this is not the offseason to have an incomplete team. The free agent market is bleak at best. Teams were spoiled this previous offseason, with players like Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, and Orlando Hudson available for cheap, short-term deals. That opportunity has come and passed. The Mets now have to look at their needs and available talent.
Let's look at the team's needs for the 2010 season. Coming off the books will be Gary Sheffield ($0.4 million), Carlos Delgado ($12 million), Billy Wagner ($10.5 million), Brian Schneider ($4.9 million), Tim Redding ($2.25 million), Alex Cora ($2 million), Fernando Tatis ($1.7 million), Livan Hernandez ($1 million). Assuming no long term, lingering injury symptoms, the line up next season will be David Wright at third, Jose Reyes at short, Luis Castillo at second. The outfield will be Carlos Beltran at center and Francoeur in right. The pitching rotation will be Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, and John Maine.
The major holes that absolutely need to be filled will be at first, left field, catcher, and pitching.
Now let's take a peek at the best available players at each position. At catcher is a motley crew, made up of players like Jason Kendall, Bengie Molina, Ivan Rodriguez, Yorvit Torrealba, and Jason Varitek. First base is a just as bad; available options are Russell Branyan, Nick Johnson, and Adam LaRoche. The outfield has the most talent this offseason, headlined by Matt Holliday, Bobby Abreu, Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero, and perhaps even Manny Ramirez. Starting pitching is perhaps the bleakest of all. Best available will be Erik Bedard, Rich Harden, and Brett Myers.
Many people are against the Mets "wasting" draft picks to sign mediocre type A free agents. Under normal situations there would be an issue with losing picks but the Mets have not done a good job drafting, diminishing the value of draft picks for this franchise. The showcase for this lack of drafting ability was 2007, where the Mets drafted 4 college relief pitchers in the first three rounds which was a huge mistake. Furthermore, the Mets don't have the chips to acquire talent. While players Ike Davis and Josh Thole may one day factor into the Mets potential future success, they are not can't miss prospects and do not deserve a king's ransom in return for their services. Finally, if the Mets do not trade Billy Wagner, he will be a type A free agent and Delgado may potentially be a type A or B. Best case scenario, the Mets get two draft picks which gives them even more flexibility.
That being said, let's analyze who the Mets should target this offseason.
The catching problem can be easily solved but the solution may not be all that popular. Catcher is rarely an offensive powerhouse. As long as a catcher can be a league average hitter and has a plus arm he can have a job in the major leagues. Omir Santos has had 246 plate appearances. He has a .703 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging). There are 14 catchers worse than Santos with at least 200 plate appearances, including Carlos Ruiz, Ramon Hernandez, Russell Martin, Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Kendall, and Dioner Navarro. Santos is easily controllable and cheap, allowing the team to allocate money elsewhere in either a trade or free agent signing.
The Mets should absolutely use that freed up money in two places: at first base and in the outfield. Daniel Murphy looks like he will become a decent off the bench utility player but not much else due to the fact that he has lost nearly two hundred full points off his OPS over the course of a full season compared to the small 151 plate appearance sample from last season. Despite the injury concerns surrounding him, the first move the Mets should make this offseason is to sign Marlins 1B Nick Johnson.
Johnson, 30, is exactly the kind of player the Mets need in their free swinging lineup - an on-base machine who although doesn't hit for power will create runs (his wRC, a statistic that measures the amount of runs a player creates using weighted on-base percentage, is 73.9 this season. In other words, the team he is on will score 73.9 runs because he is in the lineup. In comparison, Daniel Murphy's wRC is 41.4) and will get on base (.419 OBP this season). Although his .350 BABIP is high, the fact that he has the ability to get on base will still keep him valuable even if his average regresses.
Although it may be a year too late for this, the Mets should attempt to sign Bobby Abreu. The fact that he was allowed to sign with the Angels for only one year and five million dollars and that the Mets showed no interest in him at this cost was an absolute travesty. Abreu is another player who gets on base a ton and creates lots of runs. His wRC this season is 80.7 (well above any of the corner outfielders the Mets have used this season) and has an OPS of .849. His BABIP is also inflated to the tune of .360 but like Johnson his well above league average on-base percentage will help save him. His defense is not great (-6.0 UZR/150) but he is still an unbelievably valuable player (he is worth almost 3 wins more than a replacement level player).
The reason why these players would be so valuable for the Mets is because they are both good hitters that get on base. Power is irrelevant if you can create and score runs, especially considering the large gaps that CitiField possesses. Players like Johnson and Abreu would flourish with doubles. More importantly, neither will command the kind of money that someone like Matt Holliday or Jason Bay would receive on the open market. This allows the Mets to not only settle up their offense but also allow the Mets to spend their money wisely and use it to potentially get a decent pitcher or sit back and enjoy the development of Bobby Parnell and Jon Niese.
With Reyes, Beltran, and Wright all returning next season rested and hopefully without any residual injury effects, adding Abreu and Johnson could significantly impact the team. Sometimes the moves that seem insignificant can be the difference between missing and making the postseason.