When the term "core" is used for the New York Mets, four or five names immediately come to mind: David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana, and for better or worse, Francisco Rodriguez. Being that these five names represent a mere 20% of the roster at any given time, this is a bit of an oversimplification. There is a large group of the players on the current 25-man roster who should contribute meaningfully, again for better or worse, over the coming years. Mike Pelfrey, Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez, John Maine, Angel Pagan, Jeff Francoeur, and Daniel Murphy figure to be getting a large percentage of the team's innings and plate appearances through 2011. However, after the 2011 season ends, many of these players will have the option of choosing Free Agency, potentially forcing a team-wide makeover. The following players will all be eligible for Free agency following the 2011 season:
1. Carlos Beltran
After signing a 7-year $119 million contract for the 2005 seasons, it seemed like Beltran would be running down flyballs in Flushing forever. However, with a significant and perhaps degenerative knee injury, Voltron would probably benefit from a move to the AL, where he could occasionally occupy the DH spot, keeping his legs fresh and his name on the lineup card virtually every day.
2. Jose Reyes
The Mets bought out Reyes's arbitration years and first two years of Free Agency by signing him to a Four Year deal with a team option for the fifth year back in 2007. After an injury plagued 2009 campaign, the $11 million option for 2011 doesn't seem to be quite as much of a guarantee as it did a year ago, but you still have to imagine its all but assured to be picked up. Beyond that, the expectations for what Reyes can expect from his next contract range from record setting should he regain his health in 2010 and 2011, to completely uncertain should he not.
3. Oliver Perez
For many Mets fans, the expiration of Perez's 3-year $36 million contract could be something worth celebrating. Hopefully over the next two years, he can find a way to make us at least a little sad to see him go.
4. Luis Castillo
A year ago, the expiration of Castillo's contract after 2011 might also have been considered something worth celebrating. However, after a much stronger campaign in 2009, sentiments have changed a bit. Regardless, with diminishing defense and near inability to hit balls over outfielders heads, it seems likely the Mets will have better options for the keystone by 2012.
5. John Maine
Maine will likely go year-to-year until 2011, which will be his final year of arbitration. He seemed strong after coming back this year from more arm woes. Still, he's a pitcher who has had arm problems and missed significant time in back to back seasons, so any optimism should be tempered, and his future even in 2010 and 2011 is still somewhat unclear.
6. Jeff Francoeur
Like Maine, the Mets really need to take Frenchy year to year, and give themselves the flexibility to be rid of him if something significantly better crops up (I'm lookin' at you Fernando....no, not you Tatis). There's been some rumblings that the Mets would like to sign Francoeur to a three year deal, but such a move at this time would be beyond hasty, and would likely simply pad the pockets of many an Amazin' Avenue community member's therapist.
7. Francisco Rodriguez
The Mets hold a very pricey $17.5 million option on Frankie for 2012, and worse, its an option that becomes guaranteed should Frankie finish 55 games in 2011, 100 games between 2010 and 2011, and be declared healthy by doctors following the 2011 season. The only way Francisco doesn't meet these conditions is with a significant injury, and should that happen, it seems inconceivable that the Mets voluntarily spend $17.5 million on a reliever (or even the net $14 million after the $3.5 million buyout).
That's at least six players due to be elligible to leave in the 2012 offseason, and two bonafide "core" members in Reyes and Beltran. The first four players on this list alone will combine for $47.5 million in earnings in 2011. The six currently guaranteed elligibility to declare free agency in 2012 have combined to average 14.47 WAR per year over the last three seasons. Needless to say, this will be a huge turnover year for this organization. While its always possible that the Mets will resign or extend some of these players, the stars won't be cheap, and its almost a certainty that a number of them will walk away.
Far be it from me to credit a higher-up in the organization with a modicum of foresight, but its easy to suppose this is the timeline the Wilpons are giving the current management structure of the team to regain some of the respect that they've lost over the last three seasons. If the Mets don't at least make the playoffs by 2011, and somehow Omar and/or Jerry are still around, they will almost certainly be departing along with many of the players that they have acquired/managed.
So what does everyone think of this situation? If all or most of these players do leave after 2011, most importantly Beltran and Reyes, how should the team proceed? Should they take their newfound financial liquidity and immediately tie it up in some shiny new free agent toys with an eye set on competing in the short term? Or should they take the opportunity to begin a more systematic rebuilding process? Would such a process even need to take a significant amount of time, or could it be done quickly and effectively without buying nearly every high-quality asset on the market? These are obviously difficult questions to answer more than two years ahead of time, but its still a situation worth considering given the current roster constitution.