Long time reader, first time poster. Sorry that this is all in text, but I guess that I'm web illiterate. I had put together a bunch of pictures and tables in MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint, but after a few hours of trying to figure out how to get them into this post, I gave up. (If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.)
Also, thanks to AA for opening up this up for Mets fans to post their off-season plans. This was a lot of fun to put together, and even educational for me. At the beginning, I really thought that a trade for Doc Halladay was a must, but after thinking it through and weighing what the team's strategy should be and the costs involved in such a trade (money and prospects), I realized that a trade for Halladay is the exact opposite of what the Mets should do this off-season. So....here's what I came up with...
Where Is The Team Now?
The Mets are really hamstrung by not having quality, young (or "productive and cheap", if you prefer) players on their roster. Unless you have the Yankees payroll, its very difficult to field a winning team without at least a few cheap players that supply tremendous value (e.g., the Phillies have had Werth and Victorino (8 WAR in 2009 for $5m / 9.4 WAR in 2008 for $2.2m )). While the Mets of 2006-8 had these players in Wright and Reyes, the left side of the infield is quickly getting expensive ($19m in 2010 payroll and $25m in 2011). As a result, the Mets need to hold on to the talent they have in their farm system and let it develop. Guys like Jonathon Niese, Fernando Martinez, Ike Davis and Josh Thole aren't far away from breaking onto the ML roster and being able to provide valuable production for little cost.
The choices as I see it are either:
(a) Keep the current prospects in the Minors and let them develop. This should/could give the franchise the opportunity to field championship caliber teams for the foreseeable future; or
(b) Trade away the prospects for high priced superstars. This may give them a better shot at the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, but with aging stars and little to no payroll flexibility for years to come, the franchise would be looking at multiple years of mediocrity...unless they are willing to start spending $200m per year on the team.
While I think that its highly probable that Omar opts for (b), I think that (a) is the right way to go overall. (Why will Omar and the Wilpons opt for (b)? (1) Omar is on the hot seat. If he doesn't put a winning product on the field at the start of 2010, he won't have his job anymore. If I were him, I wouldn't care about 2012 either. (2) The Wilpons feel like that have to put a real contender on the field this year to turn around the awful fan and media sentiment.) At the end of the day, the old baseball philosophy should hold: You should only make a trade for a superstar, if you think that you are one player away from contending and that player will put you over the top. The Mets cannot honestly say that today. So what should the strategy for 2010 and 2011 be?
The Mets are a New York team and can't tell their fans that they are going to rebuild for a season or two (OK, the Knicks are doing this, but its not smart...esp. when you're competing with the Yankees for fans, and not the Nets). They have to take a shot at the playoffs every year. In order to do that in 2010 (and to a lesser extent, in 2011), the team will have to make some bets on players with high upside potential. Of course, this also means that the players are likely to be injury risks. If all goes well, the team will be able to compete for the title. If not, things could get ugly (again).
Regarding this offseason market, all of the buzz says that this market is going to be excellent for picking up free agents, as most teams will be looking to cut payroll and many will fill needs through trades. Given that, and the fact that the Mets won't lose their first round pick next year if they sign a Type A FA, they should absolutely go this route (losing 2nd and 3rd round picks is much less costly, than losing a first rounder).
Finally, the longer the Mets can wait in the off-season before signing some of these players, the better off they probably will be...much like last year, when we saw what happened to Orlando Hudson, Bobby Abreu and the "quality" relievers on the market. So without further gibberish, here's the plan:
1. Trade Luis Castillo to the Astros for Alberto Arias, RHP. This is really meant to say: Trade Castillo to any team that needs him for a quality, cheap reliever - like Troncoso or Kuo from the Dodgers, for example.
2. Re-sign Carlos Delgado for 1B. Contract terms - 1 year x $5m. It looks like this contract is realistic.1 I'm not sold that Daniel Murphy will (not "potentially can if he realizes his full potential", but "will") provide the necessary production at 1B, so I think that bringing back Delgado on a cheap contract is necessary for the "bridge to Ike" season. If Delgado plays 100 games, then this contract is worth it. Murphy and Chris Carter provide replacement level or above protection and rest for Delgado.
3. Sign Matt Holliday for LF. Contract terms - 6 years x $18m per year. Will cost 2nd round 2010 draft pick. This is a no-brainer as far as I'm concerned. He fills so many holes that the Mets will have next year and for the foreseeable future.
4. Sign Ben Sheets to 1-year incentive-laden contract ($3m base, up to $10m total value). Sheets hasn't pitched in a year, so I don't expect more than 100 innings out of him, but they should be high quality innings. When he starts to tire out, sit him down until the post-season, and have the next guy take his rotation spot...
5. Sign Erik Bedard to 1-year incentive-laden contract ($3m base, up to $10m total value). He'll probably miss the first 2-3 months of 2010 as he recovers from his latest injury, so I only expect him for the second half of 2010 and the post-season. As with Sheets, if he misses a lot of time due to injury, he won't earn all of the incentives in the contract, so the production the Mets get should be reasonably affordable.
I decided on the Sheets and Bedard combination, because it fits the strategy of taking a shot at the title this year, while leaving the team with payroll flexibility in the future. In 2011, Niese will be coming up and there is projected to be a very good FA crop of pitchers (Webb, Lee, Halladay, Beckett, De La Rosa, Vazquez). If the Mets were to sign Wolf, Pineiro or Marquis for 3/30 this off-season, it would make it almost impossible to be a player in next year's FA pitching market.
6. Sign Gregg Zaun for C. Contract terms - 1 year x $2m. (TB just turned down a $2m option, but he's worth it.2) Zaun will provide decent power at the back of the order and is a good one-year filler until Thole comes up in 2011.
7. Sign Placido Polanco. Contract terms - 2 years x $6m per year3. This signing may cost a 3rd round 2010 draft pick, as he is a Type A FA, but his value makes the signing worthwhile. If Polanco wants more than 2 years, then move on, as Omar shouldn't make the Castillo mistake again. Acceptable back-up plans on a 1 or 2-year contract are Craig Counsell, Felipe Lopez or Adam Kennedy.
8. Trade Brian Stokes for a "prospect". Stokes is a below replacement level reliever right now. If we can get something for him because he throws hard, I'd be thrilled to open up the bullpen spot to a more productive reliever.
9. Sign 3-year contract with Pedro Feliciano. A "feel good" move. It's been widely reported that he's looking for this and we could lock him up at an OK price before he reaches free agency. Don't go over $3m per year though, as (i) he is arb eligible this year...and will likely be a Type A Free Agent next year that the Mets might be willing to offer arbitration to, and (ii) reliever performance is notoriously variable.
10. Re-sign Nelson Figueroa for the long-reliever / spot starter role. Another "feel good" move. I think that he's paid his dues. 1 year x $500k contract though.
11. Sign Kelvim Escobar to a Minor League contract with a bunch of incentives4. Start him off in AAA and see if he can come back. Also, at the very end of the off-season, take a look at (a) other relievers that have upside and are willing to accept a (cheap) Major League deal and (b) injured players like Chad Cordero, who are risky but have a lot of potential upside and may be willing to sign a minor league deal.
Projected Line-Up and Rotation
What Should This Roster Be Expected To Do?
2010 WAR Calculation
Expected 2010 Expected
WAR per PA/IP* PA or IP** Expected High*** Low****
SP1 Johan Santana 0.01873 225 4.2 4.7 3.8
SP2 Ben Sheets 0.01500 100 1.5 2.2 0.0
SP3 Mike Pelfrey 0.01057 194 2.1 2.9 0.8
SP4 Oliver Perez -0.00176 173 (0.3) 2.2 (2.1)
SP5 John Maine 0.00937 168 1.6 2.4 1.2
DL Erik Bedard 0.02089 88 1.8 2.6 1.2
RP Francisco Rodriguez 0.01642 64 1.1 2.1 0.3
RP Bobby Parnell 0.00566 70 0.4 0.8 0.0
RP Sean Green 0.00595 69 0.4 1.0 (0.1)
RP Pedro Feliciano 0.00586 57 0.3 0.7 (0.2)
RP Alberto Arias 0.00741 33 0.2 0.4 (0.5)
RP Adam Bostick 0.00000 40 0.0 0.0 0.0
RP Nelson Figueroa 0.00722 53 0.4 0.5 0.0
C Gregg Zaun 0.00520 277 1.4 1.7 1.2
1B Carlos Delgado 0.00540 465 2.5 3.3 1.12B Placido Polanco 0.00531 657 3.5 5.4 3.0
SS Jose Reyes 0.00580 746 4.3 5.8 3.1
3B David Wright 0.00807 685 5.5 8.1 3.8
RF Jeff Francoeur 0.00019 618 0.1 3.2 (1.2)CF Carlos Beltran 0.00851 598 5.1 5.7 4.6
LF Matt Holliday 0.00942 671 6.3 7.4 5.7
C Omir Santos 0.00327 282 0.9 0.9 0.0
BE Chris Carter 0.00000 100 0.0 0.0 0.0
BE Wlson Valdez 0.00409 100 0.4 0.4 0.0
BE Angel Pagan 0.00531 200 1.1 1.5 0.4
BE Daniel Murphy 0.00271 225 0.6 1.3 0.0
Totals 45.5 67.3 26.1
* WAR Data from FanGraphs. Expected 2010 WAR per PA/IP is weighted 16.7% for 2007, 33.3% for 2008 and 50% for 2009 performance. Chris Carter and Adam Bostick are assumed to produce at replacement level.
** Expected PA and IP from Bill James on FanGraphs. Some relievers & bench player playing time manually adjusted. Approx. 7.5% of playing time left open for replacement level players.
*** High WAR projection = best WAR performance over last 3 years x expected PA/IP.
**** Low WAR projection = lowest WAR performance over last 3 years x expected PA/IP.
The Expected WAR takes into account past performance and uses the Bill James' projections for 2010 playing time (for the most part). The Santana and Reyes playing time projections are probably aggressive, so we can adjust down for that, but even taking that into account...this team should be competitive for a play-off spot.
What the analysis above also tells us is...wait for it, are you sitting down?... if Ollie or Francoeur lose any significant time to injuries, their replacement by Niese / Pagan will most likely increase the Mets' chances of winning. I'm sure you're all shocked. Alas, Ollie and Francoeur are in my projected Opening Day roster, because we all know that well, they will be there. We just have to hope that Francoeur is not given an extension.
The proposed team looks like it has decent depth on all levels - i.e., throughout the active line-up, from the Major League bench, and in the Minors.
With such a deep line-up, the team could probably withstand a couple of injuries (in the outfield, at catcher or in the right side of the infield) and still be competitive. Murphy and Pagan should provide adequate above replacement level back-up if they have to fill-in for an extended period of time.
Similarly, with Bedard getting healthy for the final 3-4 months of the season and Niese and Fernando Nieve in AAA, an injury or two in the starting pitching staff wouldn't be the end of the world (especially, if it's to Ollie). If there are a rash of injuries however, the season could be over quickly. Of course, with Santana, Perez, Maine, Sheets, Bedard, Niese and Nieve all coming off injured seasons, this is all a risky proposition...but we already knew that going in. Based on where the Mets are right now, they have no realistic choice but to pursue this strategy.
Depth available from AAA probably will look something like this:
All of the players that could be called up from AAA (those in bold) could probably provide replacement level performance (Niese probably higher) in 2010. Any relief pitcher depth that is signed, such as Escobar, could hopefully provide added depth at an above-replacement level.
Salary Projections for 2010 and 20115
Jose Reyes $9m $11m
Placido Polanco $6m $6m
David Wright $10m $14m
Matt Holliday $18m $18m
Carlos Beltran $18.5m $18.5m
Carlos Delgado $5m N/A
Jeff Francoeur $4m N/A
Gregg Zaun $2m N/A
Johan Santana $21m $22.5m
Ben Sheets $10m N/A
Erik Bedard $10m N/A
Mike Pelfrey $0.5m Arb1
Oliver Perez $12m $12m
John Maine $3m Arb3
Francisco Rodriguez $11.5m $11.5m
Bobby Parnell $0.5m $0.5m
Sean Green $0.5m Arb2
Pedro Feliciano $3m $3m
Alberto Arias $0.5m $0.5m
Adam Bostick $0.5m $0.5m
Nelson Figueroa $0.5m Arb1?
Omir Santos $0.5m $0.5m
Chris Carter $0.5m $0.5m
Wlson Valdez $0.5m $0.5m
Angel Pagan $1m Arb3
Daniel Murphy $0.5m $0.5m
JJ Putz $1m N/A
Totals $150m $120m (+ 5 Arb players + 4 new players)
Note: The $150m 2010 payroll assumes that Bedard and Sheets meet all of their incentives and earn $10m each (even though this isn't in the performance projection).
What Happens Next Off-Season?
Coming off the payroll are: Sheets ($10m), Bedard ($10m), Delgado ($5m), Francoeur ($4m), Zaun ($2m) and Putz ($1m). Total decrease of $32m.
Being added to the payroll are: Niese, Ike Davis, F-Mart and Thole ($1.6m total). Add to that raises due to Santana ($1.5m), Wright ($4m) and Reyes ($2m). Increase of $9.1m plus arbitration raises (~$5m). So total increase of approximately $14m.
This leaves approx. $18m to improve the team for 2011. That should be enough money to target a top-line starter for let's say, Maine's rotation spot (adding in Maine's $3m, takes you to $21m of room).
Target WAR for Play-Off Team: 44.0 Wins = 92
WAR in Expected Case: 45.5 Wins = 94
WAR in High Case: 67.3 Wins = 115
WAR in Low Case: 26.1 Wins = 74
Looking at the above WAR calculations, the expected WAR takes the Mets to ~94 wins. There are an additional 1.5 wins of "cushion" in the expected projection, so the team could suffer some additional injuries or below expectation production and should still come out with a good chance at the play-offs. Also, looking at performance variability, it looks like this roster provides a bit more upside than down-side risk (+21.8 wins vs. -19.4 wins).
If the Mets get a few breaks and make the play-offs with this team, they could potentially have Santana, Sheets and Bedard throwing as their top 3 starters. With a good line-up, that would give them a great shot at winning it all in 2010.
If Lady Luck once again does not favor the Mets in 2010, and there are a host of injuries (like that's ever happened!)...at least the fans can hang their collective hats on the following facts: (i) the Front Office gave it a good shot in 2010, and (ii) the Mets will have retained their ability to compete year-in and year-out for the foreseeable future. I'm sure the entire majority of the Mets fan base will see it exactly that way. Well, maybe a couple of fans will anyway. OK, maybe just me.
Thanks again for the opportunity to bore you with my ideas. Let me know what you think.
5 Existing contract info from Cot's Baseball Contracts - http://mlbcontracts.blogspot.com/2004/12/new-york-mets.html