2011 is by no means a lost season for the Mets, but the reality of the situation is that our dynamic trio will need a bunch of things to go right for us to compete with the Phillies and Braves (and possibly the Marlins). 2012 however should be a situation where we can realistically compete with an aging (perhaps not strong enough) Phillies squad and a Braves squad which will have quite a few holes to fill (Uggla, Gonzalez, possibly McLouth and Larry) and not a ton of money to do so. Keeping this in mind, my ground rules for the 2011 offseason are as follows:
1) Give opportunities to young players as they arise to see what we have in them
2) Do not sign any players to multi-year deals unless they are certain to be a useful part in 2012
3) Do not let K-rod's ridiculous option vest
4) Focus on signing players to one year deals who are either likely to be a type A or B free agent next offseason, or under team control beyond this season
5) Make a reasonable attempt to extend Dickey and Reyes
Our current payroll obligations can be found here (although it doesn't subtract the 5.5 million dollar deferred payment to Beltran), and for the purpose of this discussion I'm going to assume the following salaries for our arbitration eligible players:
Angel Pagan at 3 million dollars. This is a raise of about 1.5 million dollars, and given his increased role and performance is likely still a bargain. I just can't see him getting much more in arbitration with their reliance on traditional stats, which plays well into our hands. I don't make much of an attempt to extend Pagan, as we still control him for two years and outfielders are our deepest position in the minors (in addition to generally being the most quality laden position in free agency).
Mike Pelfrey at 1.5 million dollars. I worry about the arbitration system valuing winzzz too highly, but his strikeout numbers and whip should help us to get a reasonable deal with him. I'd wait to offer him an extension, as I'm perfectly happy with having two more years of arbitration with Big Pelf.
R.A. Dickey at 2.5 million dollars. I really think he'll be cheaper than this going to arbitration, but 1 million dollars this year is not worth any possible sour feelings coming from a bad negotiation. I'd offer RA a 3 year extension at 11 million dollars total with a club option year on the end, but if he declined I'd simply wait until later on to approach an extension rather than giving him more money or years. Dickey is likely to be a type A this offseason, so I'd be fine if he wanted a chance at a bigger payday.
I non-tender Sean Green and John Maine (although I offer Maine a minor league deal which he likely will decline). I'm also going to assume Dan Murphy, Nick Evans, Jon Niese, Josh Thole, Dillon Gee, Bobby Parnell, Josh Turner, and Ike Davis are all paid the minimum salary of about 475,000 each (varying service time and I rounded up slightly). I'm also leaving Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez on my roster. Castillo is a known quantity. He will not be given a chance to start at 2nd for me, but he will certainly be in consideration of a bench spot. His ability to get on base and steal a base should be a useful asset in certain situations, and depending on how the other three guys I have competing at second base do, I could see a case being made for sending one of them to the minors and keeping Castillo as the last guy on the bench. If the three guys (Murphy, Turner, and PTBNL) outperform him in the spring, I can certainly see releasing Castillo. Nobody is going to trade for him anyway, so making this decision on the last day of spring training isn't going to hurt the Mets at all.
Oliver Perez will not be considered as a starter for me. He'll be given the opportunity to audition as a lefty specialist in spring training, as cutting him now won't save us a dime. If Mike O'Connor, Eric Niesen, or Roy Merritt are clearly superior options come spring, then we release Perez at that point. Also, if the injury situation is better than expected, Perez could certainly be pushed out in favor of keeping a much younger more promising arm that will be with the team next year. There really is no downside to keeping him until the last set of cuts at this point, as nobody is going to give him a major league deal now anyway. I really feel that his splits against lefties indicate that he could be a viable option in the pen as long as he very rarely gets left in to face a righty. That gives us the following players already under team control in 2011 for the cost of 124.420 millon dollars (after subtracting Beltrans deferred money):
Catcher: Josh Thole
1st Base: Ike Davis
2nd Base: Luis Castillo, Dan Murphy, Josh Turner
Shortstop: Jose Reyes
3rd Base: David Wright
Rotation: Johan Santana, Jon Niese, RA Dickey, Mike Pelfrey, Dillon Gee
Bullpen: Francisco Rodriguez, Bobby Parnell, Ryota Igarashi, Oliver Perez
My plan starts Tejada, and Acosta (under the assumption he clears waivers) in AAA, and I'm not counting on Johan at all (he's listed mainly to note his salary). Tejada is in AAA based on the assumption that he'd see very little time in the majors, and still have room to develop. Acosta is in AAA because he stinks. Anything we happen to get out of Santana this year would be a major plus. We have roughly 20 million dollars to spend this offseason based on these figures.
The first player I'd sign happens to be one of only two multi-year deals I'm going to hand out this offseason. I'm going to give Bobby Jenks 4/28 (10 million 2010, 6 million 2011, 2012, and 2013) to step into the discussion for our closer position. While this is likely a fair value for Jenks as far as his AAV, it's a massive overpay in the amount of years we give him, which is why he'll likely take it regardless of the fact that Krod is still here. While I'm not in love with the idea of using so much of our budget on a second closer this year, I'd rather front load his deal now and make him a bargain for the last three years of his contract. That's likely when we'll be at our most competitive, and it makes him a much more tradeable commodity as his contract wears on. It also gives him a smaller salary in his final year, making arbitration a less risky proposal.
From the teams standpoint, Jenks is going to begin the season as our closer which will do several things for us. First, by keeping Krod's option from vesting, we save ourselves 14 million dollars next season. We've replaced that with three season of Bobby Jenks at about the same total cost. Secondly, it virtually assures Krod will decline arbitration this offseason as a type A. He'll be able to get multiple years on the open market, so I can't see any reason he'd take one year at around 12 million to keep setting up Bobby Jenks. Third, it makes Krod an extremely tradeable commodity if we're sellers at the deadline. Krod right now only has value as an extremely expensive setup man due to his ridiculous vest. If we use him in that role for the first half of the season, we assure his option is at no risk of vesting if he's used as a closer by any team that acquires him. By doing this, he may actually net us more at the deadline than the two picks we'll get when he leaves would (we'd likely still have to pay some of his salary, but it's in the budget).
I'm left with only 15.5 million to spend for the remainder of the team, but I can work with that. I'm going to offer Russell Martin 2/10, with both years paying him the same 5 million he made last year. The deal will also have a club option for 7 million for a third year. Rumor also has it the he'd prefer to sign in the northeast to be closer to his Montreal home. Martin is likely slighty overrated due to his 2007 and 2008 seasons, but the fact that he's still never produced a season under 2 WAR makes it baffling to me as to why the Dodgers cut him. Even if he regresses, the fact that he's a righty hitting catcher who walks in over 10% of his PA's makes him an ideal compliment to Josh Thole, and the pair of them at a combined 5.5 million would be a bargain even if Martin is relegated to the bench.
With only 10.5 million left to spend, I'm going to start shopping for guys who were non-tendered and offering them 1 year major league deals. First on my list is to bring back Brian Bannister for 500,000. I think he'd take that, as he's not likely to get a major league deal better than that, and we certainly have openings in the rotation. While not a world beater by any means, he's serviceable and would be arbitration eligible again next year (and coming off of a 500,000 salary not likely to be expensive). That brings our spendable dollars down to 10 million dollars. He is also likely to clear waivers if our more well known pitchers are healthy enough to force him to AAA, giving us some flexibility.
The next deal I'm going to make is to give Andrew Miller 1 million dollars to come compete for a rotation spot. It's likely a slight overpay, but honestly the money is there. Miller has had the walks as bad as Ollie, but he's got a similar enough arm to take a low money risk on. Miller will still be arbitration eligible for the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons, so if he does learn a little control he'll be quite the steal. I see Miller ending up in our bullpen, but I'm going to give him the chance at the rotation out of spring training. We're down to only 9 million left.
Taylor Bucholtz, like Miller, was recently non-tendered by the Red Sox. Like Miller, I'm going to offer him 1 million dollars to come here. He's arbitration eligible for the final time in 2012, so he's another piece we control beyond this year. An extreme flyball pitcher, I'd expect pitching in Citifield instead of the homer friendly parks he's pitched in before will help not only his homerun rate, but his walk rate as well (as he shouldn't feel the need to nibble quite as bad). He could actually be one of the real steals of the offseason for us. That leaves us at only 8 million left to spend.
I'm going to round out the bullpen with a third 1 million dollar reliever...Manny Delcarmen. Delcarmen was non-tendered by the Rockies, but with the exception of last year has been a very effective reliever. Delcarmen saw his HR rate spike this year, and like Bucholtz will likely see both his HR rate and walk rate improve by simply moving to a bigger park. Delcarmen would be eligible for arbitration again in 2012, so he gives us added flexibility going forward. We now have 7 million dollars left to spend on the roster.
I'm going to make one final 1 million dollar signing, another non tender who will be arbitration eligible again in 2012. Willy Aybar was once a highly touted prospect who just hasn't lived up to the hype. He can play several positions with some degree of competence, and hits from both sides of the plate. His plate discipline is good, and at 1 million dollars he'd be an absolute steal to round out the bench. He's also another player to throw in the mix as the starting 2nd baseman, and I can't imagine he's going to be getting too many offer that give him an opportunity to earn a starting nod.
I'm going to spend 500,000 on a backup center fielder, on the off chance that I deal away one of the two guys (not counting Bay) that can play the position. Tony Gwynn Jr was non-tendered by San Diego, can't hit a lick (although he has a nice approach, so a good BABIP could make him a fantastic bargain), and fields very, very well. Gwynn was non-tendered prior to his first arbitration year, so he'd be arbitration eligible in 2012 and 2013. This leaves us with 5.5 million dollars to spend.
That leaves us with the following roster:
Catcher - Russell Martin, Josh Thole
1st Base - Ike Davis
2nd Base - Dan Murphy/Justin Turner, Luis Castillo, Willy Aybar
Shortstop - Jose Reyes
3rd Base - David Wright
Outfield - Jason Bay, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran, Lucas Duda, Nick Evans, Tony Gwynn Jr.
Rotation - RA Dickey, Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, Brian Bannister, Dillon Gee, Johan Santana
Bullpen - Bobby Jenks, Francisco Rodriguez, Taylor Bucholtz, Manny Delcarmen, Booby Parnell, Andrew Miller, Oliver Perez, Ryota Igarashi
Having moved quickly to secure the non-tendered guys I want via free agency, I can see that the rotation is still a big concern if Johan isn't healthy to start the season. We now seem to have depth in two areas...the bullpen and the outfield. The guy I'd most like to trade to fill this hole is Carlos Beltran, but his price tag and the fact that he can't be offered arbitration severely limit his value. I don't want to swap him for a bad contract, but I do see one team that we may well match up with.
The Boston Red Sox appear to have legitimate interest, and unlike most teams they seem willing to let players who were a big part of their roster leave if they are reaching the point that they will be overpaid. Therefore, I'm going to call Theo Epstien and offer him Carlos Beltran, Fernando Martinez and Zach Lutz for Jonathan Papelbon. First, the salaries...Papelbon earned about 10 million last year, and in his final year of arbitration he's likely to earn about 12 million, so the 2011 money is very similar (we gain about 1.5 million dollars, bringing us to 7 million dollars left to spend). Player for player, I think they hold very similar value right now, and Boston has Daniel Bard ready and waiting to step in for Papelbon when he leaves. Papelbon the closer is a regular 2 WAR player, while even as a health risk 2 WAR seems a very conservative expectation for Beltran. Martinez and Lutz will likely be required for two reasons. First, Papelbon (if he leaves, which seems likely) will be a certain type A, and net two first round picks where Beltran will net none. Lutz and Martinez will be used to negate this loss for Boston. Secondly, I'm expecting Boston to pick up Beltrans deferred money. While it's only 5.5 million, it would certainly be useful to have those extra dollars free'd up going forward. If necessary I'd consider adding a low ceiling arm such as Armando Rodriguez to the deal to make Boston bite, but I have a feeling it wouldn't be necessary.
Now why exactly would I add Papelbon to a bullpen that already includes Bobby Jenks and Krod? The simple answer is that I'm not planning on that at all. In my eyes, Jonathan Papelbon has been used incorrectly for most of his Boston career. He's got 3 above average pitches already, and by all reports his changeup (which he never uses in the pen) is also a plus pitch. He had shown several years ago that he was capable of starting in the spring, but Boston moved him back to the closer role when the pen looked awful. I really believe the only reason they've still had him closing is because of the glut of starters they have. I firmly believe that if stretched out in the spring, Papelbon has the ability to be a 4-5 WAR starter heading into his walk year. Even if his results are somewhat lower than my expectations, he'll still have value as a type A as an elite closer. Either way, this is an opportunity for us to get some real value for Beltran, and most other teams who will likely shop quality starters won't be looking for a piece like him, but more of our farm system instead.
At this point I'm fairly happy with the roster as it's constructed. We have a solid everyday lineup, versatile bench, solid if unspectacular rotation, and reliable bullpen with a shut down back end. We also have 7 million dollars left to spend, so it seems like now might be a good time to take a huge risk/reward swing at Brandon Webb. I'd guarantee him the last of our budgeted money for 2011 (7 million), as long as he gave us a 10 million dollar club option for 2012 with a 1 million dollar buyout. The club option guarantees that if he pitches well we will control him for long enough for him to regain his type A status before getting his big payday, as well as negate some of the risk of giving him that much money. In all likelihood, he won't be much above average for us, but on the chance he reverts back to previous form he'd be a very special pickup.
I'd have one final bit of business to do, as I'd sign Ben Sheets to a minor league deal. This really does nothing for the 2011 Mets (or their budget), but it does allow us to watch his entire rehab process very carefully. Odds are that he's done, but paying such a minimal amount of money to have better information than the rest of the league would just be a smart business move in my opinion. This leaves us with no money left to spend (we actually have some, as several guys will likely be getting a minor league salary), and an opening day roster of:
Catcher - Russell Martin, Josh Thole
1st Base - Ike Davis
2nd Base - Dan Murphy, Willy Aybar, Justin Turner, Luis Castillo (3 of the 4)
3rd Base - David Wright
Outfield - Jason Bay, Angel Pagan, Lucas Duda, Nick Evans, Tony Gwynn Jr
Rotation - RA Dickey, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, Brian Bannister/Dillon Gee, Brandon Webb, Johan Santana
Bullpen - Bobby Jenks, Francisco Rodriguez, Taylor Bucholtz, Andrew Miller, Bobby Parnell, Manny Delcarmen, Oliver Perez, Ryota Igarashi (7 of 8)
Regardless of any moves we make, the success of the 2011 Mets is going to come down to the performances of Johan, Bay, Wright, and Reyes. If these guys are relatively healthy and good, we're going to be a very solid team. If they struggle or are hurt, we likely won't be much above .500. I feel like the roster I've assembled give us a very solid chance to compete if these things go right, and if the player listed above struggle we are in a better position for 2012 than we were prior to the offseason beginning. All in all, it is certainly attempting to make the best of a bad situation.