Going into the season, the Mets have a fairly flawed team, an inflated budget, and a limited amount of funds to spend, roughly $30 million dollars. For the most part, the team for 2012 was already in place, with the incumbents at most positions being under contract for 2012, or desirable to bring back. As a result, I targeted two kinds of players, while doing my best to maximize performance in relation to payroll: Peripheral individuals who would be making the 2012 team better (bench players or bullpen pieces around for just the year), and individuals who will be sticking around past 2012, who will have the ability to make the Mets a better team from 2013 on, when the Mets are more meaningful contenders for postseason baseball.
In short, I want to transform the Mets from this:
Departures (Free Agency, Non-Tendered Contracts, and Releases)
-Carrasco passed through waivers this past season because, well, he wasn't very good. A lot of his suckitude for the year can be attributed to his high HR/9 rate, at 1.28 (basically double his career mark) and .355 BABIP (almost .40 points higher than his career levels). There were some red flags, though- he struck out fewer than 5 batters per nine innings, one of the lowest marks of his career, and besides for altering the way he physically pitched, dropping down to a submarine release point for virtually the entire second half of the season, the repertoire of pitches and how often he threw them radically changed between 2010 and 2011. His performance in Spring Training will be his make-or-break moment. If he has a good Spring Training, I'll feel that a lot of his 2010 struggles were due to the large amount of home runs he gave up, and his inflated BABIP for the year. If he has a poor Spring Training, it's evident that something is wrong with him, and he is not the semi-successful pitcher he was in the past any longer. If that happens, I would grant him his release, and give Dale Thayer his slot in the bullpen- Thayer was surprisingly good in AAA-Buffalo last season, and in the ten innings or so he pitched with the Mets, posted a 3.48 ERA, 2.06 FIP and 3.27 xFIP.
-After sitting out all of 2009, and pitching only 12 innings in 2010, Taylor Buchholz was signed to a smart, $600,000 deal, in the hopes that he'd regain the magic he had in 2007 and 2008, with the Colorado Rockies. Unfortunately, after pitching 26 decent innings, he was sidelined with right shoulder fatigue. Weeks later, it was revealed that Buchlolz was suffering from anxiety and depression problems, and would be sidelined for the rest of the 2011 season. While Buchholz was signed for cheap, and can theoretically return to form in 2012, I find it unlikely. Other cheap, relatively effective middle-relief pitchers exist, who have less question marks hanging over their heads than Buchholz.
-I was very on the fence about what to do with Capuano. I wish that Sandy had traded him during the season last year, so we'd get something back- even if it was a Minor Leaguer who seemingly didn't have all that much to offer, in terms of their current skill set and/or potential. Capuano falls short of qualifying as a Type B free agent, so the Mets get nothing if he leaves, which I plan on letting him do.
-Like Capuano, I was on the fence about what to do with him. He served us admirably in 2011, and I wouldn't be averse to bringing him back for the 2012 season. But, as was the case with Capuano above, I found someone who I think is better, that I sign instead, making Hairston unnecessary.
-I signed Willie Harris in my AAOP last season, but he's been pretty disappointing. And, the sad thing is, nobody expected much from Willie Harris to begin with. So, if you're a disappointment when expectations were extremely low to begin with, that's saying a lot. Last season, I figured that his offensive woes were because of his .199 BABIP. In 2011, he didn't hit much better, both as a regular starter and as a pinch hitter. His defense, which was trending downward to begin with, wasn't very good either. His spot on the bench can be easily replaced by someone who is better, and making less money.
-When it was announced that the Mets were in contract negotiations with Ryota Igarashi, I was excited. The progressive Red Sox front office was also attempting to sign him, so if Omar was pursuing a player the Red Sox were also interested in, that was a good thing. We won out, and signed Toyota Irrigation to a modest two-year deal. It's a good thing that the contract was only for two years, because Igarashi has been horrible. His strikeout rate always was pretty decent, but his strikeouts almost came at a 1:1 ratio with his walks. Given that there's no reason to believe that he'll be any better in the future, there's no reason to keep him around. All in all, an example of a good process (signing Igarashi) with bad results.
-The story of Jason Isringhausen was a feel-good story virtually all year. After not pitching in all of 2010, and tossing only 8 innings in 2009, Jason came to Spring Training either making the team that first drafted him, or calling it a career. Somewhat improbably, he pitched good enough to make the team, though he agreed to stay in Port St. Lucie for extended Spring Training refinement. He pitched well enough when he joined the team that Terry Collins anointed him the 8th inning set-up man. When K-Rod was traded, Izzy shifted into the closer role, where he picked up his 300th save on Monday, August 15th. Despite all that, Jason was fairly volatile all year. With an ERA in the mid-3s, and a FIP and xFIP well into the 4s, he got a lot of help from his defense behind him, getting out of jams. I, personally, do not believe that the veteran will pitch in 2012, and will choose to hang up his cleats and retire. If he doesn't retire, I wouldn't bring him back. He's older, combustible, and was more pedestrian than lights out.
-Ronny Paulino exceeded my expectations for him coming into the season. At points of the year, when he was hot and Josh Thole was slumping, I was in favor of making Paulino our primary catcher. In the end, though, Josh Thole really wasn't as bad as I imagined him, and should be the primary catcher going into 2012. I'd have no reason bringing Paulino back, except for the fact that I'm looking to pinch pennies in some areas, and back-up catcher is a place where I can. Ronny made $1.35 million dollars in 2011, and based on his performance on the year, is due for an arbitration raise. I'd estimate that he'd probably make around $2 or $2.5 million for 2012, either in an arbitration hearing or by settling before it came to that, and that's a little more money than I'd want to give to a back-up catcher of his caliber, even if he'd be splitting the playing 70/30 or 65/35. For that amount, I can sign a better catching candidate.
-The Chris Young signing was a moderate-risk, moderate-reward signing, and everybody knew that. Chris Young has a long history with injuries, and in the eight years the veteran has been pitching in the MLB, he still has yet to throw 200 innings or more. As expected, Young didn't last an entire season, pitching only 24 innings in 2011. He was mildly effective, though, notching a 0.1 WAR. According to Fangraphs, that performance was worth $600,000. So, while Alderson might have overpaid a little bit by giving Young a guaranteed $1.1 million dollars, it was a calculated gamble. I don't think that Young will ever be healthy, and even though he would be cheap to re-sign, I personally feel it's easier to not even bother offering him a roster spot.
Free Agent Signings
5 years with a 6th year player option, 7th year club option $100 million dollars ($17 million, $22 million, $21 million, $20 million, $20 million)
-Keeping Jose in New York is more or less a no-brainer. If David Wright is the heart of the Mets, Jose Reyes is the soul of the Mets. Despite what Fred Wilpon said, Jose Reyes is indeed worth Carl Crawford money- it is questionable whether or not Carl Crawford is worth Jose Reyes money! From 2005 to 2008, Reyes averaged 157 games a year, and during that time averaged 5.2 WAR per season. From 2009 to the present, though, he has averaged around 100 games per season, and 2.9 WAR per season, excluding his MVP-caliber 2011 season. The moral of the story is that, when he's on the field, Jose Reyes is among the best players in baseball, but he has a propensity to find himself on the disabled list. This factor is mitigated, in my opinion, by the fact that, he will be turning 29 during the 2012 season, more or less excels at a premium position and, historically, has bounced back from similar injuries he sustained in 2009-2011 (2003, 2004) to post multiple All-Star caliber years (2006-2008). The injuries will limit the amount of guaranteed contract time he receives, but not the amount of money in the contract. Five years is a reasonable long-term deal, with player/club options in the 6th and 7th years to allow for both Jose and the team to keep him with the team, should either or both parties want to. In terms of money, his contract is structured similarly to Carl Crawford's.
3 years with a 4th year player option, $32 million dollars ($8 million, $12 million, $12 million)
-Born in Taiwan, Wei-Yin Chen is a 25-year-old (turning 26 next July) lefty who currently plays with the Chunichi Dragons in the NPB. As a result of some contractual snafus, and some shady business practices on part of the Dragons' front office, Chen negotiated a free agent clause into his last contract, and will be making the move to the MLB in 2012 without a team needing to post a bid to his former NPB team. Chen debuted in 2005 as an 18-year-old rookie, tossing a few innings in a cup of coffee, but missed 2006 and 2007 to Tommy John surgery (note, I cannot verify this 100%, given scarcity of information and translation difficulties, but he did not pitch in 2007 and 2008). Since 2008, he's been a dominant pitcher, posting a 2.83 ERA with a BB/9 that has been trending down (average of 2.4 per nine), and a strikeout rate of 7.9 per nine (which, has also been trending downwards slightly). He injured his left adductor muscle in February 2011, and missed the beginning few weeks of the 2011 NPB season. The injury didn't hurt Chen's stock much. For the season, he went 8-10 with a 2.68 ERA and 3.39 (according to my own math) in 164.2 (24 starts, 1 relief outing).
-Chen features a fastball with a little movement that sits in the low 90s, that he can pump up to 94-95 MPH when necessary. His primary off-speed pitch is a slider that breaks in on righties, and sits in the mid-to-high 80s. He also mixes in a looping curveball and a splitter that he's been developing in more and more. Chen definitely has talent, but often seems to muscle his way past inferior NPB batters- in the MLB, against superior competition, he's not going to be able to do this. His age, left-handedness, and status as international free agent all make him very attractive, regardless of his flaws.
1 year, $1 million dollars
-Scott Hairston was brought in by Sandy last season to be a back-up outfielder who hits lefties well, has a little pop, and is generally knowledgeable about the baseball world. I was going to re-sign him, when a certain unicorn-riding outfielder popped into my head. I compared their career MLB slashlines, as well as their splits, and lo and behold:
- Murton: .286/.352/.436 (952 ABs)
- Hairston: .244/.303/.437 (1820 ABs)
- Murton vs. Lefties: .304/.372/.480 (352 ABs)
- Hairston vs. Lefties: .274/.328/.486 (661 ABs)
-Hairston has a larger sample size, but Murton's 952 and 352 at-bats are large enough a sample size in my opinion to establish that he's the better hitter. The biggest difference maker is what Murton did in 2010, with the Hanshin Tigers, though. His first year in the NPB, he hit .349/.395/.499 in 613 ABs. For the 2011 season, he hit .311/.339/.422 in 585 ABs. While a lot of people will downplay this since, in their opinion, NPB pitchers are inferior to MLB pitchers, I interpret this as the opposite. A foreigner to both Japan and the NPB (and, as such, subject to discriminatory rulings by umpires- the NPB is very insular when it comes to certain things), the pitchers have an advantage with them being wholly unfamiliar to him, in both what many of them throw (Japanese pitchers generally have repertoires that are larger than pitchers back here in the Americas, as well as pitches that are not found in the Americas, such as the shuuto, or the gyroball) and how they throw (Japanese pitchers have very distinct and, to us, unorthodox pitching motions). And yet, Murton excelled, showing the promise that sometimes poked through while he was in the MLB. In terms of defense, Murton primarily played left field, and was generally a good fielder, with a career 28.5 UZR in 1761.1 innings there. He has 297 innings of experience in right field, and UZR/150 sees him -8.0 runs above average there. Unlike Hairston, Murton doesn't have any meaningful experience playing center, but in 2010, the Mets only started Hairston at center in 8 games- and I retain the services of Jason Pridie, who can play centerfield- so I don't think this makes much of a difference in selecting between the two. At the end of the day, this isn't rolling the dice all that much, and is a low-risk, moderate-reward signing. If Murton isn't as good as he was with the bat in Japan, he still was a decent hitter in the MLB to begin with, and him "reverting" back to that isn't all that bad.
1 year, $400,000 thousand
-Okajima was a sensation when he first arrived in Boston in 2007, posting a 1.5 WAR. He was decent in 2008 and 2009, but not as dominant as he was when he first debuted in the MLB. In 2010, Okajima was injured, and as a result, missed playing time. Because he was not as effective as he was before the injury, he lost his spot in the Red Sox' bullpen. He pitched 8.1 innings in 2011 before being designated for assignment. In AAA-Pawtucket, he pitched 51.0 innings (34 appearances), striking out 48 (8.5 K/9), and walking 9 (1.6 BB/9), ending the year with a 2.29 ERA. Okajima fell out of favor in Boston, but can benefit coming to the Mets, who play in a league without a DH and a division where few relatively batters have faced him. When he's at his best, Okajima is a versatile reliever who can get anyone out- over his career, his platoon splits are not very pronounced and has shown ability to pitch effectively in high leverage situations. At his worst, he can be an effective LOOGY, as his .218/.277/.323 line against lefties attests to. Though Danny Herrera looked good in September, it can't hurt to have Okajima in the pen in case he falters, as he has in the past while in the big leagues.
1 year, $1 million (with incentives up to $5 million)
-A year and a half ago or so, who would have guessed that Jonathan Broxton would be signing a one-year deal in Free Agency, looking to rebuild his value? His traditional stats, advanced stats, and peripherals all were very solid, until the end of June 2010- a 0.83 ERA, 48 strikeouts, 5 walks, and batters hit .217/.254/.258 off of him (with a .361 BABIP). After June 27th, in a game against the Yankees where he threw almost 50 pitches and gave up four earned runs, he had a 7.58 ERA, 25 strikeouts, 23 walks, and batters hit .325/.437/.479 off of him (the .389 BABIP didn't help much, either).
-After June 2010, he had a 6.75 ERA, 7.43 K/9 rate, and 1.00 K/BB ratio. In 12.2 innings in 2011, he had a 5.68, 7.11 K/9 rate, and a 1.11 K/BB ratio. He admitted that he had been pitching through discomfort for a large part of 2010 and was still feeling discomfort in his elbow, prompting him to be sent to the DL, and eventually shut down for the season when he had setbacks during rehab. On September 19th, he successfully underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur and loose bodies from his elbow, and will be ready to pitch by 2012.
-Broxton probably isn't going to be the pitcher who hit the high 90s with regularity, flirting with 100 MPH, who struck out upwards of ten batters per nine innings while walking three-to-four. More likely, he'll work within the 93-97 range. Even if he doesn't strike out as many batters as he once did, his walk rate will certainly shrink back to career levels, being as that he won't be pitching through pain and stiffness. If he struck out eight batters per nine, while walking between three and four, I'd be happy.
1 year with a club option for a second year, $2.5 million
-Back in his prime, Ramon Hernandez was a damn good catcher. From 2001 to 2006, he was worth an average of 3.1 WAR. Since then, he's average 1.3 WAR. That's not terrible, but it's apparent that he isn't the offensive and defensive presence he once was. He's been a part-time catcher for the most part during that period of time- he's played 106, 133, 81, 97 and 91 games respectively from 2007 on. Hernandez not being not being to start an entire season's worth of games is fine with me, as Josh Thole is around to split time with him. Thole hits .167/.302/.222 against lefties, while Hernandez hits .267/.340/.442. The two would be in a traditional lefty/righty platoon, with a slight emphasis put on Hernandez because of his overall better bat, and good defense (even at his advanced age).
Minor League Transactions of Note
(Note: I kept Minor League signings off of my total Mets payroll, because Minor League payrolls are kept separate from their MLB-affiliate's payroll. Obviously, other signings must be done to ensure that the Minor League teams have their line-ups filled, but the following, to me, are notable signings that may have an impact on the Major League team)
-Dusty Brown is a 29-year-old catcher who is currently a Minor League free agent. He was drafted by the Red Sox in 2001 and toiled in their system until he debuted in 2009. Other than brief call-ups, Brown never really got all that much of a chance. He never was all that good with a bat, though, as he has a career .261 average in 11 seasons in the Minors, and a career .396 slugging percentage, but he knows how to talk a walk, as his career .342 OBP attests to. In 2011, with the Indianapolis Indians, the AAA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Brown hit .285/.367/.506, so maybe he's turned a corner. Regardless, though, he is know for his strong defensive abilities and game calling knowledge. If either of our starting catchers got injured, I'd prefer to see Brown over Mike Nickeas.
-Charlie Zink is a pitcher with the Lancaster Barnstormers. He, once upon a time, pitched for the Red Sox, who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2002. He made his major league debut in 2008, and allowed 11 hits and 8 earned runs in 4.1 innings against the Texas Rangers, recording one strike out and allowing one walk. His Major League ERA, as a result, is 16.62. So, why go after the 31-year-old righty? He's a knuckleball pitcher. While he was with the Red Sox, Zink spent every off-season and Spring Training working with fellow knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. As evidenced by the fact his career didn't exactly take off, that didn't work too well. But, as we know, R.A. Dickey throws a different kind of knuckleball than Wakefield. Perhaps, under Dickey's tutelage, Zink might improve on his 4.7/9 Minor League walk rate, his unflattering 1:1 K/BB rate, and generally elevate his game. Because it's a Minor League signing, no harm, no foul if he does not exhibit any improvements. Something like this, though, is a project, and I wouldn't expect immediate results.
-I liked Willy Taveras when he first came up. He was speedy and flashed the leather, qualities that I liked in a player even before I embraced advanced states and realized that defense was just as important as offense. His career tailed off after being traded to the Rockies, but the soon-to-be-30-year-old journeyman can be of some use to the team. His glove isn't as good as it used to be, but according to scouting reports I've read, down in AAA where he's been spending most of his time over the past two years, his fielding is still (to the eye) above average. His bat has never been anything too special, but I envision him as a late innings defensive replacement more than anything else- anything more than that, surplus. I would invite him to Spring Training, and take it from there. If he looks good, he finds himself with a contract, on the roster. If he doesn't, we part ways. No harm, no foul.
Trade Zach Lutz, Fernando Martinez, and Jefry Marte for J.J. Hoover
J.J. Hoover is an 23-year-old arm currently in the Braves' Minor League system. The righty has a 3.14 ERA in four seasons of the Minors, thus far. He posted a 2.67 ERA in 107.2 IP last season in AA-Gwinnett. Given the depth of better pitching that the Braves have, I see Hoover as being expendable. To obtain him, I send Zach Lutz and Jefty Marte, two third basemen that are blocked from playing third base here. With Chipper Jones' imminent retirement, and the Braves having virtually no in-house replacements (Joe Leonard, rated their 20th best prospect, a C+ guy, is their only prospect at that position), both could be of use to Atlanta. They have few in-house outfield replacements either, and with Nate McClouth leaving, Fernando Martinez might fill the void, in center, in a corner, or on the bench.
First Base: Ike Davis (Lefty)
Second Base: Daniel Murphy (Lefty)
Third Base: David Wright (Righty)
Shortstop: Jose Reyes (Switch)
Left Field: Jason Bay (Righty)
Center Field: Angel Pagan (Switch)
Right Field: Lucas Duda (Lefty)
Catcher: Ramon Hernandez (Righty)
Nick Evans (Righty)
Matt Murton (Righty)
Jason Pridie (Lefty)
Josh Satin (Righty) / Justin Turner (Righty)
Josh Thole (Lefty)
Johan Santana (Lefty)
R.A. Dickey (Righty)
Jon Niese (Lefty)
Mike Pelfrey (Righty)
Wei-Yin Chen (Lefty)
Minor League Depth: Dillon Gee, J.J. Hoover, Chris Schwinden, Brandon Moore
Manny Acosta (Righty)
Jonathan Broxton (Righty)
Tim Byrdak (Lefty)
DJ Carrasco (Righty)/ Dale Thayer (Righty)
Danny Ray Herrera (Lefty)
Hideki Okajima (Lefty)
Bobby Parnell (Righty)
Minor League Depth: Jose De La Torre, John Lujan, Jack Egbert, Josh Stinson
Total 2011 Payroll
Johan Santana: $24 million
Jason Bay: $18 million
Jose Reyes: $17 million
David Wright: $15.25 million
Wei-Yin Chen: $8 million
Angel Pagan: $5 million
Mike Pelfrey: $5 million
R.A. Dickey: $4.75 million
Ramon Hernandez: $2.50 million
Bobby Parnell: $1.50 million
Tim Byrdak: $1.20 million
DJ Carrasco: $1.20 million
Matt Murton: $1 million
Manny Acosta: $1 million
Jonothan Broxton: $1 million
Jon Niese: $400,000 thousand
Hideki Okajima: $400,000 thousand
Ike Davis: $400,000 thousand
Nick Evans: $400,000 thousand
Josh Thole: $400,000 thousand
Justin Turner: $400,000 thousand
Daniel Murphy: $400,000 thousand
Lucas Duda: $400,000 thousand
Danny Ray Herrera: $400,000 thousand
Jason Pridie: $400,000 thousand