The Mets find themselves in a somewhat difficult position. They aren't good enough to contend for the division but are too good to start over. They have a lot of money committed to a few players who aren't producing accordingly and they are suffering the ill effects of doing business with Madoff.
There is hope however, as there are some young, promising players who have shown they can produce at a high level in the majors and a quartet of young arms waiting in the wings. The offense produced well last year (5th in the NL in wOBA, 3rd in wRC+) but the rotation was bad (10th in the NL in FIP, 12th in xFIP). My plan sets out to make improvements from last season's roster while not blowing anything up and with an eye to the future. If the team can avoid injuries, they should be in the Wild Card conversation.
Re-sign the Franchise Player:
Jose Reyes is re-signed to a 5 year/$90M contract with a vesting 6th year/$20M option reached with 270 games played over the course of 2015 and 2016 (it averages out to 135 games per season for the 2 years). When healthy Reyes is one of the best players in the game and you don't let a franchise SS walk away. The vest serves as a bit of an insurance policy. Reyes probably wants 6 years and $100M and this way if he's healthy, he gets it (the full contract would actually be worth $110M) but we don't have to worry about paying someone $20M for a 6th year if it's doubtful he'll even be able to play. Omar abused vesting options so we as a fan-base have grown to loathe them, but this seams like a perfect situation for it.
Retool the Rotation:
The rotation needs work. Our lord and knuckler, RA Diceky is a fine #2 and Jonathan Niese is a good #3 with upside. After that however we have a bunch of questions and guys with limited potential. Johan Santana is coming back from a capsule tear. He may return as a front-line starter or he may never fully make it back. Counting on him for any significant contribution in 2012 would be a mistake. Mike Pelfrey is much maligned but as durable as you can get and not a problem when not counted on for more than a #5 starter's contributions; he is (apparently) due to make around $5.7M in arbitration. Dillon Gee, fresh off an essentially replacement-level campaign in 2011, is an ideal emergency starter. Chris Capuano put up a resurgent season (8.13 K/9, 2.56 BB/9, and 4.04 FIP) but in doing so, probably priced himself out of Citified. That leaves us with two spots in the rotation to fill.
Coming from Atlanta is RHP Kris Medlen in exchange for Zach Lutz. Medlen spent 2009 and 2010 flipping back an forth from the Braves rotation to the pen putting up solid numbers (career 7.95 K/9, 2.58 BB/9, 3.58 FIP) until succumbing to Tommy John. He spent most of 2011 rehabbing the injury and was activated September 24th. He has been passed on Atlanta's depth chart by Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, and Randall Delgado so he is attainable. Given the chance to pitch without worry of demotion to the pen, he should reach his previous solid numbers. The oft-injured Lutz can hit, but 3B is blocked for the foreseeable future in Flushing. However, Larry can't play forever in Atlanta. Medlen is year-1 arbitration eligible. He'll make under $1M, probably around $500K. If the talent going Atlanta's way seems a bit light, add in rule-5 eligible Juan Lagares.
The wheeling and dealing does not stop there. Via Toronto comes LHP Brett Cecil and Carlos Perez (more on Perez later) in exchange for rule-5 eligible Jefry Marte, Armando Rodriguez, and rule-5 eligible Mark Cohoon. The once moderately-touted Cecil has seemingly fallen out of grace with the Blue Jays due to his HR troubles (career 1.32 HR/9) but his control is still there and a move to Citifield should help. Marte immediately becomes the Jays best corner infield prospect and could be the their long term solution at 1B. In Rodriguez and Cohoon, they get two arms who could contribute very soon either as back-end, depth starters or in the pen. Cecil is year-1 arbitration eligible and has a career 6.31 K/9, 3.09 BB/9, and 4.69 FIP. He'll make under $1M, probably around $500K. If the package going Toronto's way seems a bit light, add in Fernando Martinez.
These two pitchers give the Mets a pair of young, cost-controlled assets who should preform above league-average and could either settle into the rotation long-term, or be used as trade assets in the future if and when Mejia, Harvey, Familia, and/or Wheeler are ready. It might seem like I'm dealing away a lot of prospects but we're going to have a numbers crunch this offseason since so many guys are rule-5 eligible. The players I'm moving are either on the 40-man but blocked at the MLB level and/or stagnating, or likely to be lost in the rule-5 draft. As a result, I have created room on the 40-man so we don't expose so many players and possibly lose them. I don't know about you, but I don't want to risk someone claiming Wilmer Flores, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jefry Marte, Cesar Puello, or Bobby Carson.
Rebuild the Bullpen:
Alderson made some gambles with the pen but hardly any of them worked out so it needs major re-working. Manny Acosta, once the victim of vitriol from the fan-base is now the bullpen's most dependable arm (8.81 K/9, 2.87 BB/9, and 3.81 FIP in 2011); he is resigned to a 2-year/$1.5M contract. Bobby Parnell has shown signs of being a late-inning candidate, but has yet to find constancy (3.21 FIP but a 4.10 BB/9 and a smattering of Blown Saves in 2011). Pedro Beato is a promising pitcher but likely needs time in Buffalo to reach his ceiling. Daniel Herrera (2.79 BB/9, 4.27 FIP in 2011) and Tim Byrdak (3.16 FIP in 2011) proved themselves capable lefties. DJ Carrasco was a disaster in 2011 (5.11 FIP). He is getting paid however, so we might as well give him a shot. He likely ends up in Buffalo. Jason Isringhausen had a nice swan song (8.49 K/9 and reaching 200 career saves) but it's time he hang them up. Taylor Buchholz went from a pleasant surprise to a sad story over the course of the 2011 season. He was having a fine year (9.00 K/9, 2.42 BB/9) before getting injured and succumbing to depression; he is re-signed to a minor league deal. Miguel Batista preformed admirably late in 2011 and he is retained on a minor league contract as depth. Josh Stinson goes back to Buffalo after a not-so-impressive MLB debut. That leaves us with three bullpen spots that need filling.
In comes Joe Nathan on a 1-year/$3M contract with incentives of $500K for every 20 appearances. Nathan has a recent history of top-notch production (6 consecutive years of a FIP < 3.00) but has yet to find success after getting Tommy John surgery in 2010 (4.28 FIP and 0.0 fWAR in 2011). A 1-year contract allows him to re-establish his value but also works for us in that if he proves to be finished, our investment was limited.
Also coming aboard is Johnathan Broxton on a 2-year/$4M contract with incentives of $500K for every 20 appearances. Like Nathan, Broxton has a recent history of top-notch performance (career 11.55 K/9, 3.74 BB/9, 2.71 FIP) but after suffering a string of injuries, had a terrible 2011. If Broxton can find health, he likely returns to form and is puts up >10 K/9's and < 4.5 BB/9's again.
The last arm joining the organization is Matt Thornton from the Chicago White Sox. After being given the closer's job to start 2011, he suffered from one horrible defensive performance after another. It wasn't all the defense's fault however, as his K/9 dropped below 10, but the potential reward is a dominant reliever. After falling out of favor with the White Sox, he's likely expendable to Kenny Williams. Going to Chicago in exchange is Anderlin Rodriguez (also coming our way in the deal is $2M in cash). Rodriguez could potentially slide in to their hole at 3B in a year or so's time if Dayan Viciedo can't handle it, be the air-apparent to Paul Konerko at 1B, or move to DH if he proves unable to cut it in the field. Matt Thornton comes with a 2 year/$11M contract with a 3rd-year club-option for $6M ($1M buy-out). If the talent going Chicago's way seems a bit light, add Josh Satin.
Address the Lineup and Bench:
Ronnie Paulino is non-tendered. He didn't do much (.289 wOBA, 82 wRC+) and it's not like we have the money to spend on him anyway. Mike Nickeas and his replacement-level-self goes back to Buffalo. To fill the backup spot, old favorite and picture-taking extraordinaire Ramon Castro is signed to a 1-year/$1M contract. Coming off a season of .332 wOBA and always defensively sound, he should do fine backing up Josh Thole. To help organizational depth at the position, Carlos Perez is acquired from Toronto in the above mentioned Brett Cecil deal. The 21-year old Perez is touted as a positive contributor on both sides of the ball as a plus defender with good plate discipline and some potential power but Toronto is stacked in catchers with JP Arenciblia, Travis d’Arnaud, and a few others so he's attainable. There is an outside shot Perez is ready as quick as August, 2013 but for the time being he likely goes to St. Lucie.
Willie Harris turned out to be a dud (-0.3 fWAR in 2011). To take his place, in comes Laynce Nix on a 1 year/$750K contract. Nix is an adequate fielder (career UZR/150's of 4.8 in LF, 9.2 in CF, and -3.3 in RF), a decent base-runner (career 5.4 baserunning runs above average), and is coming off a .321 wOBA, 101 wRC+ season. Coming off three years of better-than-replacement-level-value production, he should have little problem being worth the $750K. Taking Scott Hariston's role is the mysterious Nick Evans and his career .312 wOBA (.365 vLHP). Hariston had his moments but that ~$1.1M could be spent elsewhere. Rounding out the bench are the returning Ruben Tejada and Justin Turner (100 and 97 wRC+ respectively). Mike Baxter and Jason Pridie are re-signed to a minor league deals.
Instead of tendering Angel Pagan, he is signed to a 2-year/$8M contract. Too many people are okay with the idea of cutting ties with a useful asset; even in a bad year Pagan was essentially league average (.313 wOBA, 99 wRC+). He is a great candidate for an extension because his value is perceived to be lower than it really is. If it turns out that last season was truly just a down year and he rebounds to his previous > 2 fWAR production, then we have a steal of a contract because we're only paying a fraction of what Pagan is worth. If it turns out that last season is the new norm for Pagan, then we have a market-value contract for a ~1 fWAR player (and we save roughly $700K for the 2012 season versus what he'd apparently make in arbitration).
Additionally, Manny Alvarez, Manny Corpas, Joel Zumaya, Brian Bannister, and Willy Aybar are signed to minor league deals. Since they don't even have to be on the 40-man roster, there's essentially no downside. If they somehow manage to figure it out/stay healthy, then we have potentially useful pieces at league minimum.
(Click images to embiggen)
Guarenteed contracts: $71.9M ($80M - $8.1M [the $80M includes assumes arbitration awards of $4.7M, $1.5, $1M, and $900K to Pagan, Paulino, Acosta, and Buchholz respectively. In my plan, none of those players get them for various reasons.])
Contracts via Extensions: $22.75M
Contracts via FA/Trades: $10.5M - $12.5M (including the $2M coming from Chicago)
Total 2012 Payroll: $105.15M - $107.15M (depending on performance bonuses)