With few reasons to keep talking about this train-wreck season, let's peek ahead at 2010 and the long winter in between then and now. First, assuming the Mets skip the offseason, this team of in-house options would emerge next spring. This mediocre squad provides a good baseline for both the payroll and talent
Minaya the Mets GM will be building on. (h/t USSMariner for the format)
Using the estimation that a team of replacement-level players would win 50 games, this team would be expected to be in the 80-84 win range, depending on your relative optimism, or lack thereof, regarding Santos and Francoeur. That projection passes the gut check, as it would just be this sub-.500 team plus half a season of Beltran, a healthy Reyes, and something resembling a rotation. Remember, however, that a team can subtract, just as it can add, wins from a team, depending on the complementary talent (see: Hernandez, Livan -1.6 WAR; rest of 2009 Mets).
Sticking just with what they've got, however, the Mets are a .500 team with a $102 million payroll. That leaves ~$20MM to spend, based on the reported 120MM budget. Using the common estimation that each win is worth $4-5MM in today's market, the Mets are in a position to add 4-5 wins, making them a 85-89 win team. While 89 wins would be a dramatic improvement, it would not be a particularly convincing challenge to the Phillies+Cliff Lee. If John Ricco does indeed take over the General Manager duties in the offseason, his charge will to be extract better than market value out his $20 million with a plan for the future.
Focusing just on the hitting side of things, however, the Mets, headed by Ricco or Minaya or whoever, have a unique opportunity to creatively fill some long-term needs. As it stands, the Mets three biggest areas of need will be 1. firstbase, 2. corner outfielder, 3. starting pitcher, 4. catcher. Ignoring those last two for the time-being, the two biggest areas for improvement are typical power positions, where teams usually stick their biggest bats. What the Mets do this offseason could determine the look of the offense (and defense) for the next several years. That being said, here are a few routes the team could pursue:
1. Trade for a superstar about to finish his arbitration years:
Many speculate about the Mets pursuing Carl Crawford this offseason, entering his $10MM option year with the highly efficient, but low-budget Rays. The Rays have motivation to sell: they could use the payroll flexibility, they won't afford Crawford as a free agent, and they have a few in-house replacements ready, namely Matt Joyce and Desmond Jennings. Crawford would fill a number of needs for the Mets. Not only would be an offensive upgrade over Pagan or Francoeur, he'd also add necessary range to the Mets outfield with Beltran's status still up in the air. He figures to be somewhere between 4-5 WAR for the price of 1-2 WAR.
Prince Fielder is a player in an extremely similar situation, despite being as different a ballplayer as possible from Crawford. He too is owed $10MM in 2010, with a very good in-house replacement (Matt Gamel) pounding on the door. While not the face of small market success like the Rays, the Brewers would probably prefer to keep the payroll in the $80MM range and know they won't be able to afford Fielder soon. Despite playing a different position with opposite skillset, Fielder would be a similar upgrade in talent to Crawford (4-5 WAR), and arguably more valuable, as the Mets could the convert Murphy to a premium position or a super-sub.
Both of these players, and any player similar to them, would have a very high cost in minor league talent, while saving money in terms of short-term value. This route might be best as it accommodates the short-term budgetary concerns with a win-now emphasis. Also, assuming the Mets could expand payroll to sign the player to an extension after 2010, the trade could have additional long-term value in shoring up the lineup for several years. To check the numbers on your own scenario, use this guide of prospect value, fittingly based on a Victor Wang article on why the Twins made out alright in the Santana trade.
Talking specifically about each player, Crawford would probably command the lesser package, due to his older age (29 next year). Fielder, however, is hardly untouchable, and his value is tempered by long-term durability concerns. Neither would likely require Fernando Martinez or Mejia, but Josh Thole and Ike Davis would fill organizational needs of the Rays and Brewers respectively. Another factor to consider in these scenarios is the possibility of the acquired player blocking prospects, so ideally Prince Fielder would make Ike Davis and/or Nick Evans more expendable.
I want the Mets to pursue both of these player this offseason, as a trade makes a lot of sense for each team and it would guard from garbage manning the 1B and LF positions in the future.
2. Promote aggresively from within:
As a completely unrelated strategy, the Mets could allow the impressive upcoming draft class to compete for jobs in Spring Training with little opposition. Fernando Martinez, Ike Davis, and Josh Thole all conveniently fit immediate major-league needs. Each could also be easily platooned with the incumbent at each position:
- RF: Jeff Francoeur career OPSvL: .802. Fernando Martinez (minor league) OPSvR: .815
1B: Ike Davis (minor league) OPSvR: 1.009, Nick Evans (minor league) OPSVL: .929
- C: Omir Santos OPSvL (minor league): .623, Josh Thole OPSvR: .751
The Santos/Thole platoon seems pointless as both players have exhibited reverse-splits in their careers, and Thole is a better hitter from than Santos vs. either handed-pitcher. The Francoeur/Martinez has some potential but probably would not last, as the Mets are more interested in each players development as a full-time player.
The Davis/Evans platoon is the most intriguing, and realistic, as each player has demonstrated an extreme platoon split in the high-minors, while neither is ready for full-time duties. The disadvantage to this would be carrying a firstbaseman with a platoon split on the bench everyday and possible stagnation of Davis' development as a full-time player. Given how extreme Ike's split is, however, I wonder if he'll ever outgrow it. The obvious advantages to this platoon would be above-average offensive and defensive production from firstbase for less than $1MM. I'm not the first to suggest it, and it's kind of an inspired idea. I could see the platoon being worth anywhere 2-5 WAR, considering the variability of their offensive and defensive performance. That would be a significant upgrade over Irish Hammer and would allow him to become the Mets' Mark DeRosa, replacing whatever other dreck the Mets would overpay to backup Castillo.
In general, I would prefer all these player to start the year at AAA as a precautionary measure, but I'm considering supporting the idea of the Davans platoon, especially considering the poor 1B free agent class.
3. Offer Delgado Arbitration/Sign stopgaps:
Offering Delgado arbitration could be a good idea*. If he declines, the Mets net a supplementary pick. If he accepts, they get to at least try him out in the spring at marginal cost.
*If they pick up Delgado's option, I quit.
Resigning Delgado, or signing any stop-gap veteran, be it Magglio Ordonez or Russell Branyan, however, has it's own set of risks. If the player doesn't perform due to old age or whatever other factors, the 5-10MM tied to him is a sunk cost and the chance of competing is slim. Besides Matt Holiday or Jason Bay, very few hitters are likely to offer a significant return. I'd take Adam LaRoche or Nick Johnson for the right price, but just spending money on an average firstbaseman does not seem like the most creative way to use a tight budget. While a stop-gap would give the youngsters more time to develop at AAA, I'd prefer the Mets to focus free agent money on very capable high-reward backups this offseason.
4. Realign the outfield:
Beltran to left! It saves his knees and allows the Mets to bring in a defensive specialist CFer to help with the expanses of Citi Field. Nyjer Morgan and Coco Crisp would be on my shortlist. Considering their defensive skill, either could provide 3+ WAR production at a minimal cost. Suddenly outfield is a strength for the Mets, offensively and defensively.
This offseason, the creative solution looks like the best one. If I'm the Mets GM, I'm inquiring on Nyjer Morgan and Prince Fielder right away. Despite what Minaya says, creativity and precision are not exclusive. Perhaps John Ricco will show us that.