First, do no harm
Actually, first fire Jerry Manuel. No point in putting together a decent team only to have gangsta pitching moves and first inning bunting ruin the whole thing. While we're at it, we'll also fire the medical staff, and replace them with people who, you know, have been to medical school and know what concussion is.
Keep the core
(all contracts are from here)
3 of our position players are 'no brainers'
SS: Jose Reyes ($9M)
3B: David Wright ($10M)
CF: Carlos Beltran ($18.5M)
The 2006 Mets came close. The same core (Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Delgado) would've made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008 by winning the last game of the season, despite the supporting cast. The core is awesome. When they went down to injury in 2009, the Mets finished 23 games back. How the Mets do in 2010 is dependent on how well Wright, Reyes, Santana and Beltran recover from injury and how Delgado's production is replaced, making the 2010 season something of a gamble.
If Wright, Reyes, Beltran (and Santana) come back to perform as well as from 2006-08, then the 2010 Mets just need to replace Delgado's production to be in contention. But that is a big 'if', and therefore it makes little sense to go all out for 2010 if that means gutting the farm and giving out big, long term contracts that cripple the club for years to come. Instead, I here propose some short-term moves that should mean that if the core comes back healthy, the Mets will be in the mix for the playoffs, while if they don't the club will be in good shape for 2011 and beyond, when (hopefully) some of their prospects will be ready to make an impact.
To do this, we're going to upgrade the starting rotation and improve the team's defense: the Mariners went from a 61-101 record in 2008 to a winning 85-77 in 2009 largely through improved defense (including the awesome Franklin Gutierrez who was robbed of a gold glove). Both Wright and Reyes have some history of being good defensive players, so we'll hope for the same in 2010. Luis Castillo, however, has to be replaced by a decent defensive 2B. If rumours are to be believed, the Dodgers are interested in Castillo; rather than take a bad contract in return, let's pay some ($2M?) of his contract, and get a minor prospect in return. It doesn't really matter what we get for Castillo, as long as his lousy defense is gone.
2B: By 2009 UZR, Felipe Lopez and Placido Polanco are the obvious free agent options at 2B. Both were paid around $5M, with Lopez both younger and better in 2009. Although 2009 was by far Lopez' best defensive year, we'll take a chance and go for the younger player, $12M over 2 years with player and club options. This commits a total of ~$8M to 2B.
C: Omir Santos is cheap ($0.4M) and therefore a serviceable back-up. With no great free agent catchers available we'll partner him with Greg Zaun for $2M. Fingers crossed Josh Thole is ready to take over by 2011.
1B: Daniel Murphy was the second least valuable 1B in the majors 2009. As he isn't good enough to play every day, he moves to the bench (or even AAA to see if he can learn 2B). With no great free agent options, we're going to try a platoon at 1B. Nick Evans ($0.4M; remember, Jerry is long gone) can play against lefties, and we'll try the fruits of the Billy Wagner trade by pairing him with Chris Carter ($0.4M) against righties. This isn't ideal, and the defensive skills of this platoon may leave something to be desired (Murphy may get the nod when Pelfrey is on the mound if his defense really is this good). At least it won't block Ike Davis, and might make the Billy Wagner trade non-terrible.
RF(CF?): Mike Cameron is coming back to the Mets on a very reasonable $10M/1 year contract. A considerable amount of time in spring training will be spent teaching Cameron and Beltran not to run into each other. Maybe Cameron can learn to shout 'Yo La Tengo'? Frenchy is non-tendered or traded to a GM more stupid than Omar (his OBP would fit right in in Kansas).
Daniel Murphy ($0.4M)
Oil Spill Valdez (for his defense and cheapness) ($0.4M)
Carter or Evans and Santos or Zaun, depending on platoons
(Total cost of position players is $60.5M)
The Mets need more starting pitchers. Oliver Perez is off to the bullpen until he learns how not to be awful. Thus the rotation is:
SP: Johan Santana ($21M)
SP: Mike Pelfrey ($0.5M, should benefit most from improved defense)
SP: John Maine ($2.6M)
SP: Jon Niese ($0.4M)
We could go out and sign a big name free agent starter (John Lackey) or a medium name, expensive free agent (Randy Wolf, Joel Pineiro). But as we're already gambling on the core being back to their brilliant best for 2010, we might as well go all in and take a risk on signing 2 of 3 of (in order of preference): Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard and Rich Harden, depending, of course, on the medical reports from our new, competent, medical team (and it's not like Lackey and Wolf are strangers to the DL themselves).
SP: Ben Sheets ($6M rising to $10M)
SP: Erik Bedard ($6M rising to $10M)
(Brad Penny's 2009 salary was $5M +$3M incentives)
With Sheets and Bedard coming off injury, we'll sign them for 1 year for a (hopefully realistic) $10M including incentives for innings pitched, and vesting options based on 2010 performance. Maine, Niese, Sheets and Bedard will play some kind of injury-based starting pitcher game of musical chairs. If all 6 starters are healthy, Niese can go to AAA and/or Maine can join Oliver Perez in the bullpen, waiting for Sheets/Bedard to hit the DL. It's a big risk, but if healthy, a rotation including Santana, Sheets and Bedard would be amongst the best in the majors.
(hopefully deep enough) Bullpen
Feliciano ($1.6M; available in the right trade, one day his arm will fall off)
Green ($0.5M, should benefit from improved defence)
Stoner ($0.4M, but this should easily be recouped through shirt sales)
Rule 5 draftee(s), the 2010 Darren O'Day
Arms received in trades for Castillo/Frenchy
(Nieve, Perez and Misch (at a stretch) can start in an emergency. Figueroa can wait in AAA; hopefully we'll never see him in the majors).
Pitching total = $72.5M
The bullpen is cheap (aside from the horrible K-Rod/Perez contracts) and full of arms. We'll see which ones stick. One aim for the new, statistically minded manager will be to make sure K-Rod finishes the absolute minimum number of games possible in the hope of avoiding that vesting 4th year option. Don't tell the player's union. With starters like Perez, Nieve, Misch and possibly Maine/Niese in the bullpen, we'll see the end of the ridiculous 1 pitcher -1 batter lefty-righty match-ups of the Jerry Manuel years. These guys will be expected to pitch multiple innings of relief per appearance.
Total Cost = $133M. All cash saved will be spent on the draft and international free agent signings. Or my misunderestimations of how much cash free agents will want.
With a full bill of health, this team could win it all in 2010. Could.
Thanks for reading.
(Sadly I think Omar is more likely to end up with something like this:
C: B. Molina/Santos
1B: Huff, the only 1B less valuable than Murphy in 2009
2B: Hudson (after trading Castillo for nothing and paying most of his wages. Hudson will get the Castillo contract and we'll be back where we started)
3B: Wright (unless he is traded for Halladay!)
SS: Reyes (Alex Cora will be signed as a back up for 'grission')
LF: Jermaine Dye (on 3 year contract)
RF: Frenchy (with 3 year extension)
Someone old and rubbish
someone else old and rubbish
Bullpen - Feliciano, Green, K-rod, someone old and overpaid, a rule 5 draft pick who will be waived within weeks and end up being awesome for someone else.
(this is without the horrendous trade that will inevitably give up various prospects like Niese/Evans/Davis for some overpaid old rubbish).