Since the end of the regular season, I've seen several headlines along the lines of, "do the Mets need to rebuild?" I wasn't aware this was even an issue. Clearly, they've already started; a team that's not rebuilding doesn't trade away players like Carlos Beltran and Frankie Rodriguez mid-season to get back much-needed prospects. The question isn't really if the Mets should rebuild, but to what extent that rebuilding should go.
The paramount rule of any team in rebuilding mode is first, do no harm. Sandy Alderson and Co. have done a good job of this so far, and I'd expect them to continue to do so his offseason. What that will mean, essentially, is a rather unglamorous winter of minor moves to field a Not Awful team, allowing the products of their farm system some much needed ripening and not endangering future payroll flexibilty. I would also expect them to do little trading, either at the major or minor league level, because they'll need to hang onto their most prized minor leaguers , and the major leaguers of any value are too expensive to bring back a haul that would be worth the trouble.
This will be extremely disappointing to the WFAN Caller set, who have been conditioned by years under Omar Minaya and Steve Phillips to expect a big ticket acquisition for Christmas each year. Better to take our medicine now than keep telling ourselves we're not sick. However, I think it will be possible to do this and still field a competitive team while coming in under budget. And that includes the biggest question to face the Mets in many years.
1. Resign Reyes
I honestly believe Jose Reyes wishes to remain a Met. I do not believe he is not an "Alderson-type" player, whatever that means. Apart from his pure value as a player, I believe this front office recognizes how much the loss of Reyes would hurt the psyche of the team and its fanbase, and how many empty seats and low TV ratings it would lead to. It will mean short-term payroll inflexibility, but that short term period will coincide with a period during which the Mets will not be just one or two Big Players away from competing for a title. I believe Reyes will still be worth his weight in gold when some of the bigger contracts of the Minaya years come off the books. Six years, $110 million is the figure I've seen mentioned the most when it comes to a competitive Reyes contract. Sounds good to me. Cut the man a check. How it's structured is of little concern to me, just pay the man.
Offer arbitration to Angel Pagan ($4.7 million) and Manny Acosta ($1 million). Both are serviceable at their respective positions and relatively inexpensive. Wave goodbye to Mike Pelfrey, Ronnie Paulino, and Taylor Buchholz, all of whom can be replaced or improved on at minimal expense. Pelfrey in particular I believe will command far more in arbitration, due to being a pitcher, than he should be worth in any sane world. We've already seen his ceiling and I don't think any pitching guru out there will be able to shape his raw clay into a masterpiece.
3. The Field
The Mets' lineup will have few surprises or additions. I'm assuming Ike Davis finally recovers from his mysterious ankle ailment to take back his spot at first base. Second will be something of a platoon between Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada. I'm not philosophically opposed to the idea of trading David Wright, but considering he's at the absolute nadir of his value, I don't think it'd be worth the great weeping and gnashing of teeth that would ensue. Shortstop is, hopefully, covered. The only real new addition would be Ramon Hernandez, who I think can be had for around $3 million, and will trade time with Josh Thole (though I'd expect Hernandez to get the bulk of it).
I pondered a bad-contract trade of Jason Bay for John Lackey, as I thought he might benefit from change of scenery and CitiField's dimensions, but Tommy John surgery intervened. So we're stuck with him for now, folks. Arbitration returns Pagan to center. Right will be manned mostly by Lucas Duda, though much like last season, I'd give occasional starts to Justin Turner and Nick Evans. Willie Harris would round out the bench.
With the returns of Davis and Reyes, a hopefully healthy year out of Wright, and the relocated walls, I'd expect this to be a decent lineup. For all the injuries and struggles they went through, the Mets scored plenty of runs last season, and I can see them doing the same with largely the same team in 2012.
4. Starting Pitching
Four of these slots are already taken care of: Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jonathan Niese, and Dillon Gee. It's impossible to say if Santana will start the season on time or pitch through all of it, but you can't rule it out, either. Right? Right, you guys? Look, just say yes.
Chris Capuano had a surprisingly decent, healthy season, but I think it's possible to improve his slot without shelling out big bucks. My first target would be Javier Vazquez, who's had quietly strong seasons for everyone but the Yankees the past few seasons. He could be had for around $8 million, I believe. If he proves unattainable, I would go after another low price tag reclamation project not unlike Capuano or Chris Young; Rich Harden fits the bill and could probably be signed for around $2 million. Barring that, a well-traveled veteran coming off a good year. Bruce Chen anyone? Or perhaps another go at Livan Hernandez? $3 million would get either of them, I think. Hang on to Miguel Batistia for minor league depth.
Again, few surprises here. Acosta will return via arbitration. Tim Byrdak, Bobby Parnell, Daniel Herrera, Pedro Beato, and (unfortunately) D.J. Carrasco are already signed. Alderson made some noise about importing a closer, but it seems unwise to pay top dollar for one. I believe Takashi Saito, who had a pretty good year for Milwaukee mostly in setup duty, could be had for $3 million. Whether that makes him the "closer" or not could be hashed out in March/April.
Add that all up, whaddya get?
|Position||Player||$ (in millions)|
Your total is a tidy $108.3 million, under the Mets' (alleged) limit of $110 million, with enough room for another bat for the bench (or two) if they decide to go with a smaller bullpen.
This is not a terrible team. Is it a playoff-bound team? I doubt it, but it's similar to one we all found quite enjoyable to watch this summer. And while payroll will be tight in the short term, it should loosen up by the time the Mets are ready to truly compete again. It reminds me of an unsexy but solid mid-size sedan, the kind you usually only see at airport car rental stations. It ain't pretty, but it'll get you there. Some time around 2014, by my estimation/hope.