Statement of the problem
For the past two years the Mets haven't been a good team. This is unacceptable for a franchise with a $150 million payroll and a very strong core group of players. They haven't been a good team for two reasons, one is entirely unavoidable and one is entirely embarrassing. The first, the unavoidable one, is the injuries they've experienced as of late. Players get injured, but the Mets' players have been disabled at an alarmingly high rate for the past two years. Perhaps the team's medical staff needs to be addressed, something I'd trust Sandy to take care of. The second reason, the embarrassing one, is the inability to surround the team's stars with productive complementary players and competent role players. Sure, the issue has been exacerbated by the team's injuries, but it's also not something Mets fans should have to put up with considering the team's resources at hand. Addressing the latter to a) improve the overall quality of the team and b) mitigate the former if it should happen again is the key to putting a contender on the field in 2011.
What they have
In the rotation the Mets have under team control one of the better left-handers in the game (Santana) augmented by three reliable mid-rotation starters (Dickey, Pelfrey, Niese). Unfortunately, Johan Santana won't be available at the start of the season and nobody is entirely sure what the Mets will get from him in 2011. While my bet is Santana provides 3-5 months of above-average work in 2011, the Mets shouldn't count on him to do so. Working on this assumption, anything the Mets get from him in 2011 is a bonus. Another intriguing option is Bobby Parnell, who had a successful run as a relief pitcher in 2010. While his 2009 season was hardly exciting, I'd argue he's yet to prove he's incapable of being a successful starting pitcher. Dillon Gee also appears to be a legit big-league starter and should be in the mix to win a job in the rotation out of camp.
The bullpen is a mess. Francisco Rodriguez is slated to be the club's primary closer, but his $17.5 million option for 2012 vests with 54 games finished in 2011 which both Mets fans and executives would like to avoid. Apart from K-Rod the Mets have Ryota Igarashi, Pat Misch, Sean Green, Bobby Parnell, and Manny Acosta under team control. All of these guys spent time with the big club in 2010, some with better results than others. There are a slew of interesting options in the minors (NOT JENRRY MEJIA), though the one I'd be most excited about is Mike O'Connor, a 30 year old left-hander that struck out 70, issued 16 unintentional walks, and surrendered 5 homers in 70 and 2/3 innings for the Mets' AAA affiliate in 2010. If Bobby Parnell and/or Dillon Gee aren't given spots in the rotation, they could be in the mix for bullpen roles, the former being a better fit.
The Mets have seven viable starting position players: Jason Bay, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Ike Davis, and Josh Thole. They could use Luis Castillo as their primary 2B in 2010, but given the resources at hand, the Mets could do better. Ruben Tejada is an option, though he's probably best suited for a bench role in 2011.
On the bench the Mets have the aforementioned Ruben Tejada and a bunch of unspectacular OF/1B/DH types. The Mets should be able to find an acceptable 4th OF/pinch-hitter among Chris Carter, Lucas Duda, and Nick Evans.
What they need
Given the uncertainty associated with Santana's recent surgery, the Mets could use some stability in the rotation. They obviously won't be able to replace Santana's production absent spending all of their money on Cliff Lee (a total Omar move) or trading all their prospects for Zack Greinke (another total Omar move), but adding a quality, reliable starter to ensure the unit is at least average in Santana's absence and well above-average once he returns would do a world of good.
In the bullpen the Mets need a reliable set-up man capable of pitching the 9th inning from time to time in order to ensure Francisco Rodriguez finishes at most 53 games. They could also use a second reliever to ensure both Sean Green and Manny Acosta aren't simply handed jobs out of camp.
Finally getting rid of Luis Castillo in favor of a better second baseman would be a major plus, but apart from that they're set among the starting eight.
On the bench, the Mets need a back-up catcher, corner infielder, and center fielder. With Carter/Duda/Evans and Tejada they have the corner outfield and middle infield spots taken care of. The back-up catcher and corner infielder would preferably be a right-handed hitter so Terry Collins has the option of limiting Josh Thole's and Ike Davis's exposure to tough* left-handed pitchers.
*That word could've been omitted.
The Mets have, including estimated arbitration salaries, $125,484,000 committed to 20 players, two of whom I wouldn't intend to use: Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. This gives them around $25 million to acquire a starting pitcher, second baseman, back-up catcher, back-up corner infielder, back-up center fielder, and two relief pitchers.
(Italics = arbitration salaries)
Since the Mets have money and an impressive core already, they don't need to trade away any prospects to construct a roster capable of contending. In that light, the Mets should turn their attention to the free agent market to fill their needs.
Move #1: Sign Carl Pavano to a 3-year, $27 million contract. Pavano is currently the best available SP on the FA market apart from Cliff Lee. His control is outstanding and he has been a reliable, durable starter for the past two years. Paying a player $27 million for his age 35-37 seasons isn't the most exciting proposition in the world, but it'd be hard to do better at this point.
Move #2: Sign Orlando Hudson to a 2-year, $12 million contract. Hudson improves the team both offensively and defensively. Guaranteeing him two years and giving him a $1 million raise from his 2010 salary would probably be enough to lure him to Queens.
Move #3: Sign Jon Rauch to a 1-year, $4 million contract. Rauch has everything the Mets need. A good, not great track record in the 8th and 9th innings, a moderate price tag, and a history of throwing strikes. Homers have been an issue for him, but that should be less of an issue if he's pitching his home games in Citi Field.
Move #4: Re-sign Henry Blanco to a 1-year, $800,000 contract. Blanco has a career .241/.315/.406 line against left-handed pitching and represents a cost-effective reserve and complement to Josh Thole's talents.
Move #5: Sign Jorge Cantu to a 1-year, $3.5 million contract. Cantu provides insurance for both infield corners, a reliable bench bat, and a possible platoon partner for Ike Davis. After falling on his face after being shipped to Texas, he's not in line for a big payday and might not be able to do better than 1-year, $3.5 million. As much of a workhorse as David Wright has been (averaged 156 games over the past 5 years), it's not realistic to expect him to continue to completely avoid the injury bug.
Move #6: Sign Boof Bonser to a 1-year, $800,000 contract. Bonser has shown some promise in the past and in addition to having one of the coolest names in baseball, could prove to be an excellent buy-low candidate.
Move #7: Sign DeWayne Wise for the league minimum. Wise is next to useless with the bat but can be effectively leveraged as a pinch-runner or late-innings defensive replacement for either Beltran or Bay with Pagan sliding over to a corner.
Move #8, #9: Release Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.
(Italics = arbitration salaries)
(Bold = acquisition)
I've listed Chris Carter as the PH, but that spot is more of a spring training battle between Carter, Duda, and Evans. The same is true with respect to Sean Green's spot, which Acosta and others could be in the mix for.
I haven't listed Bobby Parnell or Dillon Gee on the roster, but one of them would presumably take Johan Santana's rotation spot while he's out, and the other (or both after Santana's return) could be in the mix for a bullpen spot.
In the interest of full disclosure I should probably point out I'm not a Mets fan. At any rate I hope you enjoyed my take on the 2011 roster. I think this one is capable of contending, and since no prospects have been traded the Mets would be able to go after a piece mid-season if a need arises. Good luck on the rest of the off-season.