It's the most wonderful time of the year. The hot stove is on. This is the time where all the fans of all the teams of Major League Baseball franchises put their thinking caps on and play the game of "if I was General Manager of my favorite professional baseball team, what would I do to improve it?" As of right now, anything is possible. Since the GM meetings are coming up, it's important to start putting plans together. So, for the next couple hundred words, assume that I am Omar Minaya. To the best of my ability, I will attempt to design a team better than the one we currently have.
So let's look at what we have going into next season. The following players are under contract for 2010: Luis Castillo, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran , Johan Santana, Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey, and Fransisco Rodriguez. Arbitration eligible players include Jeremy Reed, Cory Sullivan, Angel Pagan, Jeff Francoeur, John Maine, Tim Redding, Pedro Feliciano, Sean Green, and Nelson Figueroa. Players under control and not arbitration eligible are Josh Thole, Omir Santos, Daniel Murphy, Nick Evans, Fernando Martinez, Anderson Hernandez, Jon Niese, Fernando Nieve, Pat Misch, Bobby Parnell, and Brian Stokes. Overall, the Mets are on the hook for a little over $100 million without any free agent signings.
The important thing the Mets need to do is get rid of the dead weight. That includes severing ties with Tim Redding by non-tenuring him. A 5.02 FIP and 5.12 tERA has no place being on this team so he is gone. Also, almost all of the free agents have to go. That includes Brian Schneider, Carlos Delgado, Gary Sheffield, and (thank goodness) Fernando Tatis. There are other options available both cheaper and more cost effective than the free agents that the Mets will be letting go of.
I would resign JJ Putz and Alex Cora at a significant pay cut (Putz around $1.5-$2 million and Cora at around $750k). Putz has shown that when healthy he can be a worthwhile pitcher and if his failure this season was due only to injury then there's no reason why the Mets shouldn't bring him back. I can't think of any team that would pay him more than $2 million so there is no reason to take a small chance on a guy who can be valuable both as a reliever and trade bait if the Mets fall out of contention. Cora is a tougher signing considering he'll be 35 next season but he was pretty much a replacement level player whose weakness in the field was exposed due to injury and playing too many games. Plus he provides that "veteran presence" or whatever that so many people drool over. As much as it pains me to say that he may be okay off the bench, he is a much better player in limited appearances. The Mets also need a late inning hitter, similar to Jim Thome on the Dodgers or Matt Stairs on the Phillies. A forum I read recommended Eric Hinske, who is only 32 and not a type B free agent. I tend to agree since he can still play the field and is a decent hitter with pop. Another person who could work could be someone like Cliff Floyd but for him it would be a position of "glorified bench coach" like Doug Mientkiewicz this year with the Dodgers.
With everyone departing and pay cuts to two returning players, we turn to the man that must be on the Mets next season: Matt Holliday. It's an absolutely no-brainer decision. Last season he had a .909 OPS, a 114 wRC, a positive UZR/150 (despite what you may have seen against the Dodgers in the NLDS), and 5.7 Wins Above Replacement. The Mets need to pull out all the stops to acquire him and spend any money possible. $18-20 million for five or six years should do the trick and won't sink the Mets financially. Remember, Beltran's contract runs out relatively soon so without another outfield bat to anchor the offense, the Mets would be going upstream without a paddle. His contract would expire by the time he was 36 so now would be the time to sign him.
Josh Thole will probably end up being the catcher for the future, so the Mets need to pick up a stopgap replacement. Omir Santos is not the answer. Remember: while we were spoiled with Mike Piazza and Paul LoDuca in recent years, catcher is not an offensive powerhouse position. Someone like Miguel Olivo, recently released by the Royals, would be a decent stopgap. His OBP is abysmal (less than .300), but his power numbers are decent and is a positive WAR and RAR player. Another quick fix for a season/platoon would be someone like Greg Zaun. A little older and doesn't have a great skill set, he'd be cheap and adequate enough just to get the job done.
First base is a similar situation. Ike Davis has been tearing everything up in Fall League, and all indications show that this kid should be ready relatively soon. Daniel Murphy is not the answer over a full season as we have seen (and may need to be converted to 2B. They did that previously when he was working in the minors but didn't do a great job. However, if he doesn't learn he won't stick in the majors so that may be a motivation for him). The Mets should go after Adam LaRoche for this position or try to upgrade through trade. LaRoche was connected to the Mets at the trade deadline but the deal with the Red Sox fell through. Now, as a free agent they can attempt to acquire a guy who has a plus bat and serviceable, but not great, defense. He could do a decent job for around $3-5 million a year and hold the fort until Davis (or Murphy) are ready to take it over full time.
The Mets also desperately need a pitcher. I'm not a big fan of John Lackey anyway and if the inconsistency of AJ Burnett in the playoffs proved anything it's that outside of a few rare cases, there are no pitching guarantees. That's why giving a big multi-year deal to a pitcher with decent, but not great stuff (his stats are deceiving but he does have 4.47 tERA, which isn't all that good) is not necessarily the correct move. Here are a couple names that legitimately interest me, all who could be signed for low risk/high reward incentive laden deals: Erik Bedard, Rich Harden, and Ben Sheets.
Bedard will be 31 and has for his entire career been a legitimate pitcher, if not injury prone. In fact all of the guys I have listed are injury prone but the sinking or swimming of the team based upon these players' injuries is irrelevant as long as absurd contracts aren't given out. His peripheral statistics actually show that he's a better pitcher than John Lackey (4.15 tERA) and could be a very important piece to the Mets puzzle. He's only pitched 160 innings over the past two seasons and if healthy could really boost the Mets next season. However, all of this would be dependent on how quickly he can recovery from his torn labrum. If he can return by February or March and begin rehabbing, he could join the team similarly to how Tim Redding did last season. However, instead of getting a mediocre pitcher, we'd be getting someone a hell of a lot better.
In place of Bedard, Rich Harden is another interesting name to consider. His 2009 season was disappointing but a guy with a 4.25 tERA and 3.58 FIP (both better than John Lackey) should be considered, especially if he would be gotten at a discount. It wouldn't mind Harden on the Mets for relatively cheap, plus he's still pretty young (28 going into next season). He can't be any worse than, say, Fernando Nieve.
Ben Sheets is the name that intrigues me the most. A dominating pitcher for the Brewers, he could never really put it together due to injury. He signed with the Rangers last season but the contract was voided when it was revealed that he would be unable to return in 2009. All things considered, due to the Mets recent injury history, Ben Sheets is not someone to rely on. However, he's had a year of rest and recovery and while the rust may still be there, Sheets' career 3.56 FIP cannot be ignored. Sheets should be signed to the Mets to a deal similar to what Freddie Garcia and Livan Hernandez got last year -- an incentive laden low risk/high reward contract that could both revitalize Sheets' career as well as the Mets season itself. The logic in these pitching moves is instead of going after one player who we will need to overpay (such as Randy Wolf or the aforementioned John Lackey), the Mets can sign pitchers who can produce just as well as they can.
Using this plan, going into the 2010 season the Mets would have:
C: Miguel Olivo (.781 OPS, 2.2 WAR in 2009) or Josh Thole if platooning
1B: Adam LaRoche (.834 OPS, 2.4 WAR)
2B: Luis Castillo (.732 OPS, 1.6 WAR)
SS: Jose Reyes (not a significant enough sample in 2009 .833 OPS, 5.9 WAR in 2008)
3B: David Wright (.837 OPS, 3.4 WAR)
LF: Matt Holliday (.909 OPS, 5.7 WAR)
CF: Carlos Beltran (.915 OPS, 2.9 WAR)
RF: Jeff Francoeur (.732 OPS, 0.0 WAR)
BN: Angel Pagan (.837 OPS, 2.8 WAR)
BN: Jeremy Reed (.605 OPS, -.7 WAR)
BN: Josh Thole (not a significant sample)
BN: Daniel Murphy (.741 OPS, 0.6 WAR)
BN: Alex Cora (.630 OPS, 0.0 WAR)
BN: Eric Hinske (.780 OPS, 0.8 WAR)
SP Johan Santana (2.8 WAR)
SP Rich Harden (1.8 WAR)/Erik Bedard (1.9 WAR)
SP Mike Pelfrey (1.8 WAR)
SP John Maine (0.6 WAR)
SP Oliver Perez (-.8 WAR)/Ben Sheets (4.4 WAR in 2008)/Jon Niese (.6 WAR)
RP Pedro Feliciano (.6 WAR)
RP Brian Stokes (-.2 WAR)
RP Fernando Nieve (.1 WAR)
RP Pat Misch (-.3 WAR)
RP Bobby Parnell (.5 WAR)
RP Sean Green (-.1 WAR)
RP JJ Putz (.1 WAR)
CL Francisco Rodriguez (.3 WAR)
These moves would still allow flexible payroll for potential trades and would not be a significant payroll increase (if there is an increase at all). The moves improve the team sizably and will hopefully move the team back into the 90 win range.Next week, I will analyze some potential targets the Mets should look into on the trade market.