I see 2011 as an opportunity. An opportunity for 2012.
The organizational expectations are low and the fan base is on board with that. We’ll also have a lot of financial flexibility next off-season, at least relative to this one, with Carlos Beltran, Oliver Perez, and Luis Castillo all with expiring contracts. Therefore, we should use the season as a dry run for 2012, identifying assets and liabilities in a way typically unavailable in New York.
Therefore goals for this off-season, in order:
- Find out what we've got before the next off-season. We'll only know if we can fill a hole with an internal solution if we try it, either at the MLB or AAA level. Use this year to do that.
- Maintain the financial flexibility we expect to have once big contracts expire at the end of year.
- Get players under team control for 2012, or get them off the team.
The details, after the jump.
1) Non-tender John Maine and Sean Green.
Neither are likely going to be here in 2012, and any money spent on raises is a waste. I’d offer Green a low guaranteed salary ($500k) as a non-roster Spring Training invitee, and likely do the same for Maine.
2) Jose Reyes stays.
Reyes is a unique problem. Of all of our players, he’s the only one who is under team control for 2011 but not 2012, can currently fetch incredible value, but is likely to agree to an extension if offered one. (R.A. Dickey poses a different problem, addressed below.)
I’m holding still. I think Reyes will maintain much of his trade value through July, so if it makes sense to deal him, it can wait.
3) Extend R.A. Dickey’s contract. Two years, $10MM, with a $6MM option for 2013.
Payouts of $4M in 2011, $5M in 2012, and a buyout of $1M in 2013 gets you to $10M guaranteed.
Dickey’s tricky. He’s arbitration eligible this year and will likely earn $2-3M. He’s a free agent after the season, and it’s not atypical to overpay a guy in his last arb year in exchange for buying out a future free agent year or two at under-market values. But that’s a tactic used for 20-somethings, not a journeyman knuckleballer who only found success at age 35.
That said, if he’s good in 2011, we’ll want him in 2012, as knuckleballers age well. A $6M risk in 2012 ($5M salary plus $1M option) is probably worth it. Maybe Team Alderson can get him for $1M less per year; that’d make it easy in my book. But I’m being overly cautious.
I love Carlos Beltran in a Mets uniform -- but he won't be here in 2012. We can't offer him arbitration per his contract and the Mets are not likely to commit to the demands he (and Scott Boras) will make, especially with Bay and Pagan already likely in house.
We're on the hook for a lot of money here. My plan: Use that sunk cost to make him a really cheap option for a team that can use him, while netting us a bit of financial flexibility and a SP for 2012 (and a stop-gap RF).
The Mets save $2 million here and get a promising young SP in Oliver. Oliver won't be cheap but is available, and I think the prospect of Beltran's stats at Alex Cora's (sigh) salary is too good to pass up.
With one professional year under his belt and five MLB starts, Oliver needs to start in AAA. He's only 22 so he'd be a core piece in 2012. His minor league stats are here and most project him to be a solid middle of the rotation starter.
Wells is a flyer. He’s entering seasonal age 26 and just cracked AAA/MLB last year for the first time and, with Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn entrenched in the outfield (and Brennan Boesch available), he’d be made instantly redundant.
For the Tigers, they're obviously a win-now team given their signings of Joaquin Benoit and Victor Martinez. Their rotation is in good shape with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Armando Galarraga, and Rick Porcello all returning; there's little reason to think that Oliver would be a better fifth starter for them (or anyone) in 2011 than an available journeyman SP.
With both Johnny Damon and Magglio Ordonez potentially leaving as free agents, the Tigers have a big hole in RF and probably don't want to rely on Wells. They can’t expect Brennan Boesch to be anything more than the 100 OPS+ player he was in 2010. With V-Mart in at DH primarily but catching 2x/week and occasionally spelling Miguel Cabrera at 1B, there are almost certainly going to have opportunities for Beltran to DH, keeping his knee healthy.
5) Release Oliver Perez.
I don't save any money here, but I do save the universe.
6) Trade Luis Castillo to anyone who will give us $1M in salary relief for him.
I think it's doable to the extent that I needn't be specific as to how. The reason isn’t the money – it’s to give others a chance to audition.
7) Address 2B internally -- while returning Ruben Tejada to AAA.
I think the Mets are best suited by giving the job to some sort of Daniel Murphy/Justin Turner platoon, with Turner also filling in for Reyes as needed. Most of the available options outside the organization just aren't that good; Reese Havens is perpetually injured/not ready anyway; and if Murphy can handle the position, I say roll the dice.
8) Find a cheap backup catcher.
Don't care, so long as he's reasonable. Spending money here is foolish, especially given that 2011 is a dice-roll. One year, $750k will get me one of the warm bodies.
9) Sign Chris Young to an incentive-laden contract, yes, but there's more: I want a team option in there as well.
I'd give him a one year, base $3m deal, which is roughly what Brian Bannister would have gotten at arbitration had he not bee non-tendered. The deal cam be worth up to $8m in incentives, with team option for 2012 of $8m with a $1m buyout. I'm putting the cost here at $6m, because it'll run us at least $4m (base plus buyout) but at most $8m, and splitting the difference.
10) Toss RF into an open spring training competition. The favorites? Wells, Fernando Martinez, and probably a non-roster invite.
It's slim pickings out there in CF/RF (which is why Beltran's trade value, above, works) but I can't stomach spending money on Jayson Werth.
11) Sign Chad Qualls to a 1 year, $2M contract with a $3M option ($500k buyout).
Unrealistic? He put up an 8.29 ERA last year for the Astros, "improving" when he went to Tampa Bay (5.57 ERA) at the deadline for a PTBNL. It’s a scarlet mark, even if his xFIP was under 4. (That said, I’d go a bit higher here if need be, or perhaps guarantee the second year.)
12) Sign Randy Choate to a 2 year, $2M deal, to be a LOOGY.
For Choate, he’s basically Perpetual Pedro. Made 85 appearances with a 3.55 xFIP, with a huge split. Feliciano made 92 appearances with a 3.86 xFIP (and a huge split). Choate’s 35 but made only $700k last year.
21) Promote/retain Pat Misch, Mike O’Connor, Ryota Igarishi, and Chris Carter.
22) Bring in Jesus Feliciano or Dwayne Wise at the league minimum for the 4th OF/25th man roles.
I want flexibility of position here, as I want to keep F-Mart and Duda in the minors if possible all year.
So that leaves me with the following team:
C: Josh Thole ($500k)
1B: Ike Davis ($500k)
2B: Daniel Murphy ($500k)
SS: Jose Reyes ($11M)
3B: David Wright ($14M)
LF: Jason Bay ($16M)
CF: Angel Pagan ($3M – arb raise)
RF: Casper Wells ($500k)
C: Someone who can catch ($750k)
2B/3B/SS: Justin Turner ($500k)
4OF: Dwayne Wise ($500k)
1B/OF: Chris Carter ($500k)
25Man: Jesus Feliciano ($500k)
SP: Mike Pelfrey ($4M – arb raise)
SP: Jonathon Niese ($500k)
SP: R.A. Dickey ($4M)
SP: Dillon Gee ($500k)
SP: Chris Young ($6M – explained above)
Injured SP: Johan Santana, who I'm not counting as an asset in 2011. We may see him, which would be great, but I'm assuming we don't.
RP: Francisco Rodriguez ($11.5M)
RP: Ryota Igarashi ($1.75M)
RP: Bobby Parnell ($500k)
RP: Mike O'Connor ($500k)
RP: Pat Misch ($500k)
RP: Chad Qualls ($2.5M including buyout)
RP: Randy Choate ($1M)
Off the roster but on the books:
Carlos Beltran ($16.5M)
Luis Castillo ($5M)
Oliver Perez ($12M)
(NB: Total dead money: $33.5 million)
GRAND TOTAL: $138M
* * *
Why my plan works? It puts us in a place to win for 2012. Think of it as a season-long tryout.
1) We gain positional redundancy where we have question marks.
In other words: My plan keeps the guys who need more development time in the minors while allowing the marginal guys MLB time to prove their worth.
Jennry Mejia, Andrew Oliver, F-Mart, Duda, Captain Kirk, Havens and Ruben Tejada are all able to stay in AAA. (In fact, using Jesus Feliciano as a 25th man was done by design so that there would be little reason to call up Duda/F-Mart unless they’re crushing it – we won’t have space to stash a replacement-level outfielder in AAA.)
Meanwhile, guys like Dillon Gee, Justin Turner, Casper Wells, and of course, Daniel Murphy are giving time in the Show to show if they belong.
The worst-case scenario? Wells and Murphy/Turner prove themselves to be bench/role players, but F-Mart and Havens prove themselves to be habitually injured/busts. It definitely could happen, but if it doesn’t, we have an effective, affordable solution for 2012 already in place in RF and/or 2B.
2) Almost everyone is under team control for 2012 but at price points where their release, if necessary, is affordable.
Obviously, Wright, Bay, and Johan are excepted from the second part of this (and K-Rod, potentially, with that option as it is). But of the other 21 Major Leaguers, only three – Igarashi, Jesus Feliciano, and Dwayne Wise – are not under team control for 2012.
Here, let’s focus on the rotation. My plan has eight legitimate candidates which can make the 2012 rotation – the five from 2011, Santana, Oliver, and Mejia. They come with financial flexibility – they’ll cost roughly the same amount as they do in 2012, and perhaps less if Young flames out (decline his option) or Pelfrey turns into Maine (non-tender). Even if Dickey goes flaccid, he can be excised for a mere $6M – or, more likely, demoted to a bullpen swingman role – for 2012.
3) We’re instantly liquid. With liquidity comes more flexibility.
First, I’m only spending $138.75M – so there’s another $10M or so left over, in case we get lucky and are competitive on July 31. If not, maybe re-invest in international free agents.
Second, that $33.5M of dead money abates, and does so without creating additional holes. So we’re looking at over $40M in salary room – say $35M after raises and in re-signing Reyes and as K-Rod’s option vests (yuck) – with, potentially, no huge holes to fill.
Now of course, there will be huge holes. (RF seems most likely.) There always are. $35M goes a long way to filling two of them and gives us plenty left over to form a decent bench and bullpen.
So yeah, my 2011 AAOP is a plan for 2012. But you can’t get there directly.