"'Defective' wasn't actually the word Paul had used. 'Warts' was. As in, 'What gets me really excited about a guy is when he has warts, everyone knows he has warts, and the warts just don't matter'". - Moneyball
I originally had en entirely different AAOP written when I stumbled upon an idea that just hit me. I was trying to find the proper way to explain why the Mets needed to focus their offseason spending cash on non-tenders and other rejects. I said that it was because the talent level of these players had been clouded recently by these stains on their records; these warts, however, didn't really affect what they were still capable of. It only took me a few seconds to realize where my brain had pulled both the thought-process and the term "warts" from. How fitting that, when writing out a plan on how I believe Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi should tackle the offseason, my mind inadvertently jumped to Moneyball.
It was in Moneyball that Sandy was quoted as remarking on his recently shrunk player budget, "And so we suddenly were put in the position of: we can only afford a one-tool player." I'm not trying to compare the Mets to the Oakland Athletics of course; our budget is, and should be, far higher. However, this offseason, due to a large number of sunk costs, we have very limited resources to spend. Perhaps even less than those A's typically had to throw around. I think that, whether we realized it or not, everyone has been approaching their AAOPs according to the tenets of Moneyball. We can't afford five-tool players. We can't afford Cliff Lee or Carl Crawford or even Jayson Werth. And none of the AAOPs have attempted to make ridiculous deals or silly trades to get those types of players. Instead, we have been focusing all our time on trying to find the best value on the free agent market by targeting guys who, for some reason or another, are undervalued this offseason.
That is what I, as well, have attempted to do with my AAOP. I take some gambles and perhaps rely a bit too much on luck, but I believe I have assembled some offseason acquisitions that represent taking advantage of market inefficiencies and undervalued players. You won't find all the Bobby Jenks' of the world in here in an offseason that seems to be rich with them, but here's what I would do:
Why It Shouldn't Matter: Anyone writing Martin's baseball obituary is jumping the gun. Even during his two past down seasons, Martin has been worth over two WAR each year, despite diminishing playing time. How has he managed to do this? While his traditional stats may be dropping, some other key figures are, if anything, showing some slight improvement. He walked in 12.4% of plate appearances last year, a ridiculously large amount for a catcher, a position which is usually chock full of guys happy to break the .275 OBP barrier. On top of that, his defense has rated positively, adding to his value and possibly making him a great mentor for Josh Thole. While I still believe Josh Thole should be starting catcher (he with the 9.8 BB% and 90.4 Contact%), my original plan to sign any old catcher like Henry Blanco to a cheap contract was scrapped when Martin was non-tendered. I think he represents an excellent value and could hopefully be signed for relatively cheap (not to mention his added value of providing Bay with a buddy he can discuss the finer points of curling with during his midnight Tim Horton coffee runs).
The Contract: A 1-year, $3 million dollar contract with a team option for 2012 worth $5 million ($1 million buyout). He presents a viable Plan B for everyday catcher should Thole falter, and if he continues to decline, we simply buyout his 2012 option. If he bounces back to pre-2009 form he represents a great value for 2012 or great trade-bait.
Jeff Francis, LHP
The Wart: He missed all of 2009 and half of 2010. He also hasn't thrown an ERA less than 5.00 since 2007.
Why It Shouldn't Matter: Francis is expected to be healthy for 2011, barring any unforeseen circumstances. At this point he's not much riskier than most other pitchers, and certainly less risky than guys like Young, Webb or Duchscherer. And I don't think I need to lecture anyone at AA on why we shouldn't be judging Francis by his ERA. His FIP and xFIP were 3.88 and 3.94 respectively last year, and both stand at 4.46 on his career, partly bloated by his rough rookie campaign. Furthermore, Francis posted a phenomenal 1.98 BB/9 last year. Small sample size and all, but his career mark is only 2.98 to begin with, so even if 2010 proves to be an outlier, Francis should still be a great find.
The contract: 2 years, $8.5 million. The contract would pay him $3.5 million the first year with a vesting option based on games started for $5 million in 2012. Yes, I know how Minaya loved the vest, but in this case I believe it's a strong way to ensure we are able to sign Francis. I'm adding more SP depth later, so the only way this option should vest is if he is healthy and effective, which I believe he can be.
Chad Qualls, RHP
The Wart: Ok, so calling Chad Qualls' 2010 season a wart would be like calling this thing a beauty mark :
Why It Shouldn't Matter: Though Qualls rocked a heinous 7.32 ERA, it was fueled largely by bad luck as evidenced by a .399 BABIP and 53% strand rate. Both those stats are well above his career averages and likely to come back towards his career norms. His FIP and xFIP were a much more respectable 4.13 and 3.91. Qualls should come relatively cheap given his bloated ERA as most teams might not be willing to gamble on him given so many other RP options on the market.
The Contract: 1 year, $2 million, with a club option for $3 million in 2012 ($500K buyout). With just the slightest bounceback, Qualls should be well worth his contract for 2011. He also holds some value as a player who can occasionally come in and save a game (given his past closer experience), so the Mets can rest K-Rod often and avoid his option vesting as best as possible. Should he bounceback he would also be a great trade candidate for any team looking for relief help (or even a closer) at the deadline.
Koji Uehara, RHP
The Wart: The Baltimore Orioles have labeled him, for some reason, a failure as a starting pitcher, limiting his value to a bullpen piece.
Why It Shouldn't Matter: Uehara posted an 11(!) K/BB ratio this past year out of the Orioles 'pen. His control improved slightly, but his K/9 ratio absolutely skyrocketed. Even in 2009 however, during his "failure" as a starter, Uehara still posted an excellent 1.62 BB/9 good for a still respectable 4.0 K/BB. Even if his numbers regress towards his 2009 season (3.56 FIP), he'll be an excellent addition to the team in any aspect, whether it be in the starting rotation or as a member of the bullpen.
The Contract: 2 years, $7 million total, $3 million in 2011 & $4 million in 2012. Of all the players I've signed this offseason, Uehara is being offered the most guaranteed money as I believe he is the least risky option. Furthermore, I believe that the Mets should guarantee Uehara a shot to compete for a starting pitching job during Spring Training.
George Sherrill, LHP
Why It Shouldn't Matter: Yeeeesh, that's one ugly wart. The only word that strikes fear into a pitcher's heart more than "Dusty" is "Torre". Let's take a look at George Sherrill's career splits: vs. LHP: 4.19 K/BB, .59 HR/9, 2.40 FIP; vs. RHP: 1.07 K/BB, .91 HR/9, 5.08 FIP. Sherrill is completely, without a doubt, a LOOGY. Guess who Torre brought Sherrill in to face more often, righties or lefties? Obviously you all know the answer as I wouldn't have asked this rhetorical question if the answer was lefties. Sure Sherrill's 2010 numbers were ugly, but that merely makes him a great bargain as I believe he could be extraordinarily effective as a LOOGY.
The Contract: 1 year, $1 million with a club option for 2012 worth $3 million ($500K buyout). It's perfectly likely that Sherrill doesn't even garner anything better than a minor league deal from any other team after his 2010 numbers. Used properly (i.e. against left-handed batters) I believe that Sherrill can be worth more than his contract and, if not, it's only $1 million for 2011 and then a $500K buyout in 2012.
J.P. Howell, LHP
The Wart: Howell missed all of 2010 due to shoulder surgery.
Why It Shouldn't Matter: The two years prior to his shoulder surgery Howell was one of the best bullpen arms for the Tampa Bay Rays. Each of the two prior years he struck out over a man an inning, posted FIPs well under 4, and was worth over a win above replacement level. Though Howell is no sure thing coming back from shoulder surgery, he also is likely to garner an overly pricey contract. He'd be worth the gamble to add some more depth to the bullpen and, if healthy, should be one of their better arms.
The contract: 2 years $3 million, with 2011 paying $1 million and a vesting option based on appearances worth $2 million in 2012.
Rounding Out The Rest: To fill out the bench and provide some depth to the team I would also sign OF Tony Gwynn Jr. to a $500K contract and UTIL Willy Aybar for $1 million. I would also sign OF DeWayne Wise, RHP Boof Bonser, RHP Brian Bannister and RHP Alfredo Aceves to minor league deals with invites to spring training. While none of these guys are flashy, they provide some much needed depth for this team. Gwynn would bring his plate discipline and excellent glove to the bench, while Aybar provides some much needed versatility. Bonser and Bannister should be allowed to compete for a starting rotation spot. They can also be used as long-relievers out of the 'pen or spot-starters should the Mets' pitching staff suffer from injuries or ineffectiveness. Lastly, Aceves can start the season at AAA and, along with Acosta and Alvarez, provide both bullpen depth and excellent alliteration.
How It All Shakes Out:
Heading into 2011 we already have our starting position players in-house. After solid rookie debuts, Josh Thole and Ike Davis deserve to be back on the starting squad. David Wright is our 3rd baseman for the foreseeable future, and Jose Reyes' value has likely never been lower, so a trade wouldn't make sense until he has at least proved his worth to other teams by staying on the field (though I'd prefer to sign him to an extension, I'd be open to trading him if we haven't reached an agreement come the summer). Similarly, Carlos Beltran needs some time back on the field to build up his value, though he's a definite trade chip come July as we can't receive draft picks for him, almost certainly won't be resigning him, and the outfield is actually one of our only areas of moderate depth. With Jason Bay and Angel Pagan set to patrol the outfield, that leaves 2nd base as our only real question mark. I would give the job to a platoon of Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner as both have proved they deserve a shot with their play in AAA and over the winter. Murphy provides a plus bat at 2nd and deserves the job if his defense is even around slightly below average. Together I believe they can provide just as much value as someone like Orlando Hudson but for much cheaper. This also gives Ruben Tejada the opportunity to work on his skills at the plate in the minors.
With Johan Santana set to miss a chunk of 2011, our starting rotation is left only with R.A. Dickey (whom I would attempt to sign to an extension through 2012), Mike Pelfrey, and Jon Niese to start the season. Francis should be slated into the rotation and the fifth spot should be open to competition. I'd prefer to give Dillon Gee a chance in the majors, but I'd be open to giving the slot to Uehara, Bonser or Bannister until Santana returns if they prove they deserve it.
The bullpen, on the other hand, only has two in-house sure locks for it in Bobby Parnell and Francisco Rodriguez. The signings of Sherrill, Qualls and Howell bring us up to a total of five relievers. I would also give a spot in the bullpen to one of the men who doesn't win the fifth starter job. The final spot in the bullpen would go to Ryota Igarashi. Igarashi is being paid almost $2 million for 2011 and I'd like to see him have another shot at the bullpen. Buffalo would be relatively well-stocked with replacements should some of the bullpen gambles fail. Mike O'Connor provides another viable LOOGY option, while any of Aceves, Alvarez or Acosta could be used for middle-relief. This would give us no need to continually stock an ineffective pitcher in the bullpen like the Mets have done in the past.
This leaves us with two obvious loose-ends: Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. The simple and obvious answer is that they both need to be cut. Though they should be given the opportunity to report to Spring Training and show their stuff, for the sake of this AAOP I'm going to assume that they don't magically turn into completely different players come Spring and that they will need to be cut before the start of the season. We're paying them anyway and, given that Ollie has been worth negative WAR the past two years, it's safe to say it would actually be more cost-effective to pay him to sit on his couch and watch Family Guy reruns than to pitch for us. And though Castillo actually has the potential to provide positive contributions, he's likely to fall somewhere around replacement level and the younger guys deserve the opportunity to prove their worth.
Why It Works:
I believe that this plan makes us competitive in 2011 while also keeping the payroll clear for 2012. Most of my offseason acquisitions aren't guaranteed a contract in 2012. If they bust then it costs us very little to clear them out after the end of the season. If, on the other hand, they find success, then they provide us some cheap options for 2012 so we can focus our payroll on some more big-ticket guys rather than the Alex Cora's of the world. What's more, they also provide some good trade bait should they provide bounceback seasons, particularly Martin and the bullpen arms. They could potentially net us some prospects for the future, or at the very least be included in a possible Beltran trade to save some of our own minor league prospects.
Whether we're talking about our own youngsters like Davis, Thole and Murphy, or some of the offseason signings, 2011 is an excellent testing ground 2012. It lets us know which players can be on the starting 2012 roster for cheap and which deserve to be cut or sent to the minors. In essence, the 2011 season isn't just about 2011: it's also about the future.
The payroll looks something like:
*Salary for arbitration eligible players is estimated
Unless my math is wrong, which it admittedly probably isn't, that puts us at $145 million without the minor league contracts. That should give us just the slightest bit of wiggle room if, come mid-season, we look like a contender and want to make some moves. Let me know what you all think and thanks for reading my first AAOP!