Disclaimer: This is my first AAOP post, and so I’m not sure of protocol. There aren’t many graphs or pictures or even smiley faces, partly due to my Luddite nature and partly because there simply aren’t… mostly because I suck at them. I have some numbers and junk in there, too, because I’m told
nerds people like that. There are still some editing issues with this piece as well, so please excuse the revisions as I try to fit this submission into my frightfully busy schedule. We can’t all have our business wrapped up by the end of September, after all…
Well, another season has come and gone, and the Mets are again working on their farmer’s tans, not in the “playing baseball so much that they tan around their uniform” sense but in the “playing golf in warmer climes as we in the greater New York area freeze on the outside and stew within” sense. Which sucks, but it’s really nothing that new, if you’ve been following this team for your entire life, like some of us
losers faithful fans have. If you haven’t been following the Mets for very long, may I suggest the Washington Nationals? They look loaded for the future, and… oh, who am I kidding? Get in, buckle up, grab a beer or six and try not to expect too much next year on our wild ride to a fourth-place finish. But there’s always 2013!
That being said, 2012 still needs to be endured, and if we’re going to have to sit through it, we might as well do the right thing and try to win the damn thing, right? Otherwise we’re the Royals, and who the hell wants to be the Royals? Not even the Royals want to be the Royals! Anyway, to that end, it makes sense to use what limited resources a backwater burgh like New York can provide to an
infuriating inspiring team like the Mets to try to create a winning baseball team out of so many lumps of… whatever.
It starts, as all things should in baseball, with the pitching. Pitching, pitching, pitching. So let’s start the discussion with catchers. Relax, they’re part of the battery! Plus, it’s so much neater to do things in the order in which they’re listed on the depth chart, because
my cut and paste skills are far and away better than my ability to create new graphics I said so. Looking at the Mets’ catching situation, it makes the most sense to allow Ronny Paulino to walk rather than offer him arbitration and have to worry about paying too much for a catcher whose one great skill, mashing lefty pitching, seems to have abandoned him. That’s not to say that he might not recover his stroke with regular playing time and limited exposure to righties; it is to say, however, that the possibility of overpaying for Paulino is significantly better than is the possibility that he regains his form, and thus he will not be worth millions in arbitration when someone else can fill in the same gap he currently occupies.
What gap is that? Simply that of a bench player asked only to spell Josh Thole once or twice a week, specifically against lefties. Thole has his opportunities for growth, to be sure, but he should absolutely be the starting catcher for the New York Mets in 2012, basically for the same reason that Fernando Martinez’s 2011 was so valuable; we learned from F-Mart’s season that he is not able to stay healthy for an entire season and that his time not spent convalescing was not overwhelming, so we now know that he is not to be included in the plans for the team’s 2012, save maybe as a call-up or fifth outfielder. Similarly, 2012 needs to be the make-or-break year for Thole. No more playing him only against righties, no more sitting him when he slumps; Thole needs to catch as many innings next year as Mike Napoli or Buster Posey (assuming the king’s men can put him back together in approximately the same shape as beforehand), because only then will the team be able to either count Thole as the starting catcher for 2013 and beyond or to start looking for a free agent pickup for that season. You know, the one where we have some hope of being competitive. Unless those Nationals catch on…
Assuming Josh Thole is given the opportunity to prove himself an everyday big league catcher (and a butterfly net large enough to keep R.A. Dickey in check), a righty-hitting backup catcher is needed and, luckily, they come on the cheap. I see multiple options out there, and think that Jorge Posada Chris Snyder is the best and cheapest available player. A very good catcher in Arizona as recently as 2009, Snyder fell off in 2010 and was bad enough to be punished traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline that year. His past year with the Bucs has been as a backup, which means his $6 million salary will be coming down appreciably, but an OPS+ of 115 and respectable numbers on passed balls (5 in 265 innings) and runners thrown out (26%, which will have to do) suggest he might have a good year in Queens, or at least a better one than the 2010 that derailed his career. So, if we could get Snyder as a backup for $1.5 million, and maybe convince him to take a two-year deal to fend off other one-year offers while remaining inexpensive, we could have a halfway-decent catcher for his 31-32 years that could either spell Thole (and it’s not like it’s such a tough word to spell – T-H-O-L-E) or could maybe step in next year if Thole washes out and we want to wait another year for a better free agent to pop up. Even if we have to go up a million or so from there, he should be worth the investment. Between Thole and Snyder, then, we look at a minimum of $1.9 million and a maximum of $2.9 million; if it takes more than two and a half to lock up Snyder, there’s always Nickeas and a rosary…
From here, the position players get a little easier to lie out. First base will be manned by Ike Davis, so long as we can convince him and his third baseman that there is an invisible wall drawn between home plate and second base that neither can cross. Also, for the sake of argument, we might want to add that the seats are made of hot lava and he shouldn’t dive face-first into them, not because I dislike exciting and athletic plays but because I can’t stand another season of Guess Who’s Playing First Base? Davis needs a serious comeback year, a Comeback Player of the Year-type season, because he’s the sort of young, cheap starter that is going to keep this team afloat as massive contracts and minimal cash flow conspire to sink the good ship Metropolitan. Adding Davis’s $400,000 salary to our running total (using the lower number, because Chris Snyder should think not what the Mets can do for him, but what he can do for the Mets) brings us to $2.3 in payroll for three players. Not too shabby!
Second base, as one can imagine, is no better off this year than last. Smart money is on Ruben Tejada playing against left-handed pitchers and Daniel Murphy playing against those who throw right-handed. Of course, that kind of platoon never really works; one of those two will get hot or cold with the bat and force the manager to change that strategy, or one of them (cough… Daniel Murphy… cough) will get injured, or something of that nature. Simply put, Daniel Murphy has a superior bat to Ruben Tejada, while the latter enjoys a great defensive advantage over the former. Were I the GM (and I suppose, for this exercise, I am), I would insist that Daniel Murphy be my starter and that Tejada enter the game only as a defensive replacement, save that I might allow Tejada to play second base when a groundball pitcher toes the rubber. Either way, these two men will write the second base story for the Mets in 2012, and so their salaries can be added to the running total and bring us up to $3.1 million for five players. I don’t see why everyone says this is so tough! All these guys seem to cost, like, $400,000 a piece!
Then, of course, comes the left side of the infield. Our two catchers, two second basemen and one first baseman will cost a total of $3.1 million dollars next year, which should be about the same number as the commission Jose Reyes pays his agent for the mega-contract I’m going to throw his way. I know all the arguments both ways: Jose is a great, energetic player, or he’s a sulker who dogs it when he’s unhappy. He’s a dynamic presence at the top of the lineup, or he’s a leadoff hitter who can’t get his OBP above .400. He’s a gamer who does anything he can to stay on the field and help his team win, or he’s Glass Joe and an ambulance should be waiting in the wings at all times, whether he’s playing or showering or napping. I just don’t care. Statistics and my eyes both tell me that Jose Reyes is a player worth $20 million annually if such a player exists. Are the injury concerns valid? Absolutely they are, but Reyes is worth betting the farm.
To put this into perspective, using the Fangraphs value of a win as $4.5 million dollars, Reyes’s Wins Above Replacement number of 5.8 for the Mets in 2011, gathered in only about 120 games worth of innings (1087, to be exact), gives Reyes a value of $26 million. Let me say that again – we paid Jose Reyes $11 million to give us $26 million in production in about three-quarters of a season played. So, in a way, we owe Reyes; the way I figure it, over the course of his career, he has amassed 29.2 WAR for $35 million in salary (according to Baseball Reference), and were all things equal (and they aren’t) and a win in every one of those years to count for the same $4.5 million I used earlier (and they didn’t, but my dedication to advanced mathematics only goes so far before my prohibitive laziness intercedes), then Reyes would have been paid roughly $35 million and generated $131 million in wins for his team. So, then, were we to gift him with a five year, $96 million contract, only for him to have a freak spelunking accident that ended in a double leg amputation and never another inning of baseball played for the man, the Mets would still break even. Overly simplistic? Yes, but I already said I’m not going to go through each year and give his exact worth. Oh, hell, fine. $5.04 million in value for 2003 (according to Fangraphs and their win values), $1.24 in 2004, $5.78 in 2005, $21.83 in 2006, $22.14 in 2007, $23.85 in 2008, $2.7 in the lost year of 2009, $10.35 in 2010 and, again, $26 million in 2011, for a total of $118.93 million over the course of his Mets career, all for the bargain price of $35 million. So, were $83.93 million of a contract wasted totally on Reyes over the course of five years, he still would have given us our money’s worth.
But that’s just not likely. In the $100 million contract we simply have to give to Reyes, he will certainly return at least half of that in value. Looking at his full seasons, his lowest WAR total was in 2010, when he played most of a season (1171.1 innings, or roughly 130 games), and even that ended in a 2.3 WAR good for $10.35 million – five years of that would return half the value of the contract, which would still leave the Mets pretty well off where Reyes is concerned. Should he turn in more 5+ WAR seasons over the course of the contract, similar to the 5.8 WAR $26 million year he had this season (when he still missed the better part of forty games due to injury), this contract pays for itself. And, by the way, it allows us to keep arguably the most talented player in baseball, almost certainly the best shortstop in the game, playing for the team with which he grew up, rather than leaving and earning his laurels elsewhere as we eat our hearts out with spoons. You know, because they’re dull. And they hurt more. You twit.
Anyway, this is my team, so I’m giving Jose $20 million a year for the next five (or six or seven, if that’s what it takes) to keep him happy and wearing orange and blue. This brings my running total up to $23.1 million for six players, which goes from an average of $620,000 per player (which would cost $15.5 million to field, which the Wilpons would like) to an average of $3.85 million per player ($96.25 over the team, which they would like less. But screw them). It’s only gonna get worse, though, as I have to add the $16 million promised to David Wright for the 2012 season. And, please, spare me the “Traid David Wrong” speeches, because that’s just asinine; Wright is a great player, he broke his back this year yet still managed to contribute 1.4 WAR to the team. This is a far cry from the 7.8 and 6.1 WAR seasons he had in 2007 and 2008, but $6.3 million in value from a guy with a broken back is still something. Infinitely more than we got from Oliver Perez, in fact, and the only thing broken on him was… well, everything. Okay, bad example, but you get the point. Wright is no sunk cost, not yet at least, and if he can return to form with his power alley made again sensible (instead of marketable… really, the “Mo’s Zone”? Was it so necessary to sell a few advertisements that you broke one of your favorite toys?), Wright might make everyone look very silly. Gosh, I hope so, because we’re now at $39.1 million for seven players, an average of $5.85 million apiece or $139.64 for an entire team of such high-paid players, which would leave Fred and Jeff working the corners after games. I mean panhandling, people! Get your minds out of the gutter!
Luckily for us, things are about to get a ton cheaper around here. For starters, Lucas Duda proved at the end of 2011 that he should be the starting right fielder, and he costs all of $400,000. Yay! Now we’re up to eight players and $39.5 million dollars, which feels a bit more comfortable. The centerfielder, without question, needs to be Angel Pagan. Regression to the mean, lucky 2010, can’t hack it as a starter, blah, blah, blah. Not interested. Pagan was perfectly serviceable in center, earning only .2 WAR but not being a real liability in the field or at the plate, and he had a 5.1 WAR season in 2010. Whether he is the player from 2010 or 2011 is immaterial; in reality, he probably lives somewhere in the middle (as his 2009 WAR of 3 would suggest), and if he gets $5 million in arbitration and produces 3 WAR, then he delivers more than twice the value of his contract and is worth signing. So that’s done. Oh, and we just can’t get rid of Jason Bay, so let’s pretend he’ll be more fun to watch next year than his snuff-film 2011 was, and we’ll just have to add his $18 million to the pot. $18 million. I bear no ill will toward Jason Bay, because he looks like a nice, quiet Canadian gent who plays hard and keeps his nose clean, but to think we could put, say, a manhole cover (sorry Chris Rock) in right field and get roughly the same production, and use that $18 million to ensure Jose never, ever leaves Queens, ever, ever, ever… Well, that just sucks. But we can’t, so Bay, Duda and Pagan bring the total up to $62.5 million for ten players, which is still a bit much in average salary but we’re not done yet, either.
The numbers begin to look even better when we examine our bench, collectively known as the Big Breakfast Club because they’re too poor to afford the Big Breakfast Deluxe at their local golden arches. Snyder and Murphy have already been added into the mix, so that leaves us with depth at middle infield and the corner spots needed. I’d say that Justin Turner showed enough that he deserves a spot on the bench for next year, but his hold is tenuous at best; Jordanny Valdespin and Josh Satin both look like real possibilities for mid-season call-ups, so unless they are replacing injured players on the roster (*pleasenotjosereyespleasenotjosereyespleasenotjosereyes*), it might be Turner that loses his gig. Still, he or any of those options will cost only $400,000, which is nearly as enticing as a hot, steamy, delicious McRib. Nearly. Beyond turner, Nick Evans looks like he has finally earned himself a bench job at least, if not some platooning with Duda in right if the whole Duda-hitting-lefties phenomenon falls through. Evans would also come cheap at $400,000, so he makes perfect sense in this role.
My final bench player (because I promised myself I’d play by the rules and not return to ten-man pitching staffs and sensible roster construction) is probably a surprise to most, and a face found only in the way-back machine, but since I can’t really find an excuse to bring back John Maine as a starter, I feel like I need to do something to rekindle the magic of yore. And so, friends and fans, I’m signing my good friend Xavier Nady to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. There are plenty of holes in this plan, ranging from his never quite reaching 2 WAR to his somewhat advanced age (33 next season) to his limited defensive range, but I think he would serve as a perfect backup to Jason Bay in left field, as well as depth at in right and at first, where a couple lefties could maybe use a breather and have Nady/Evans fill in. In fact, Bay and Duda could face righties and Nady and Evans lefties. Or, Nady could just live in left field and Jason Bay could be a very expensive lefty off the bench. Or he could sell beer, assuming no wooden, bat-shaped implements were involved that would impede him from adding value to the franchise. Anyway, Nady would come cheap, would be a proven (ehhh…) veteran behind both Bay and Duda should either falter, and though he would not add a lefty bat to the bench in the absence of the irreplaceable Willie Harris, I’m willing to deal with that in exchange for replacing Willie Harris. He could have been worse, but he was still Willie Harris.
So, with Nady, we are up to $64.8 million for our position players, which is about 59% of our projected budget of $110 million. Bet we don’t get there, though! Our first starting pitcher, however, is not going to make that prediction easy. Johan Santana, he of the reconstructed shoulder that bears the weight of all the hopes and dreams of Metsdom, is going to count for $24 million in salary for 2012. He has produced 6 and 7 WAR seasons in the past, so it’s not entirely unreasonable to hope for him to at least come close to matching his production to his salary. Still, we will pay thirteen position players $64.8 million dollars next year, and then one player will get paid about thirty-seven percent of what those guys make. I sure hope Nick Evans never buys his own meal from March through October…
Adding Johan to the total runs it up to $88.8 million, which is not just awesome in that palindrome-y way but also getting perilously close to our grand total of $110 million with still eleven guys to sign. How will we do that?
By cutting everyone else! By promoting Buffalo en masse! By choosing very carefully who stays and who goes. Mike Pelfrey? Gone, and with more than a single tear shed. I always wanted him to succeed, ever since he came up and enjoyed monstrous support against a Florida team he would never beat again. But he’s just too inconsistent, and while I can live with a lot of things, I just can’t wonder from one day to the next whether Pelfrey will be pitching in the eighth or riding the pine in the third. We could offer him arbitration and try to trade him, but we might also get stuck with him. Yeeesh. So he goes. So, too, does Chris Capuano, who played himself right out of the Mets’ price range this season, with his dismantling of the Braves and all. If he wants to come back for two or three years at $2 million each, I’m all ears. He won’t, though, so I’m not.
Really, the only necessary parts from this year are R.A. Dickey, pitching’s answer to Leonardo Da Vinci, and Jonathan Niese, who had better come back healthy from his late-season injury, or else. These two men should absolutely be part of the rotation next year, and with Dickey counting $5 million and Niese only $400,000, both are affordable pieces to fill out its upper portion. The fourth and fifth starters could be left up to a spring-training battle of underwhelming options like Chris Schwinden, Dillon Gee and Miguel Batista, but I feel the smart move is to limit those men to the fifth spot and shoot for an “Alderson-type” player for four: Chien-Ming Wang. This move has numerous wonderful advantages: it gives us a cheap player about to regain his form (and his late-season success suggests such, while his overall 2011 numbers should keep his price down), it takes a pitcher away from a Washington team that doesn’t deserve any such help, and it’ll piss Yankees fans off in spades when he no-hits them at the Stadium in June. So we’ll say Wang signs for two million a year for two years, and Gee wins the competition in spring training, and we have our starting rotation added and only $96.6 million committed, which leaves a whole $13.4 million before we turn into pumpkins. We’re gonna make it!
The bullpen should be cheap and easy to fill out. D.J. Carrasco should be traded for prospects or organizational filler or a bag of balls or a single, shattered bat or a dog that we can shoot so we can’t possibly be asked to trade back. Come to think of it, scratch the dog part; someone might just realize the stiffened corpse of a dog might yield more production that Carrasco. Either way, I’ll miss his stirrups and nothing else, so we ship him out for whatever we can get to take his salary off the books. Non-tendering Taylor Buchholz is also necessary, not because he’s no good (he is) but because he’s not pitching, and so should not be paid for such. Manny Acosta and Tim Byrdak should both be signed cheaply, I figure for $1 and $1.2 million each (if only because I’ve seen those numbers elsewhere and they’ll fit nicely here), so that leaves five more pitchers to sign and $98.8 million spoken for. Bobby Parnell deserves a chance to work in this bullpen, if not necessarily to close, and his $400,000 salary only helps build that argument. $99.2 million now, and four guys to go. Daniel Herrera should also stick with the big league club, at least assuming he doesn’t fall apart completely over the offseason (or get lost inside a clothing rack at Macy’s – I used to do that all the time when I was that little), and though his shtick usually goes sour after repeat performances (see his numbers against division rivals for that sad story), he should at least break camp a Met. There are also Pedro Beato and Josh Stinson who deserve a look next spring, but I believe I’d only let one of them, both cheap and team-controlled, go north with the rest of the big boys. I really feel like Beato got hurt and then tired this year, and that the early-season pitcher we saw was more the real deal than the September version, so I’ll say he makes it for the moment, but Stinson could always fill in for either Beato or Herrera if one falters or gets hurt. Net cost: $800,000 for two of the three, and thus we have twenty-three players and $100 million so far. And now comes the fun part.
The smartest thing to do here, for me, is to sign two veteran relievers coming off down years where they’ll be both cheap and motivated. To add another lefty (and possible closer) to the bullpen and take some of the heat off Byrdak (though Herrera’s splits suggest he can be effective against lefty batters, too), I’d sign Mike Gonzalez to two years at $4 million each. Gonzalez was maddening when with the Braves but has not had similar success in the American League; I’ve got $4 million that says he’ll figure it out again going against weaker competition in the Senior Circuit, and give us someone to
throw balls at the head of neutralize the Ryan Howards of the world… assuming they don’t neutralize themselves while “sprinting” down the first base line. Putz. (No, not J.J. The derogatory type)
Finally, with twenty-four players signed to $104 million in contracts, I’d spend a whole $3 million on a closer and shoot for the moon: Matt Capps. He’s no Joe Nathan (except for that time he took over for Joe Nathan), and he’s certainly no Mariano Rivera (because no one is, even if he is a friggin’ Yankee), but he’s also no Braden Looper or Luis Ayala or any of the other warm bodies we’ve tried over the past decade since Armando Benitez was jettisoned without any real backup plan. Capps, like many of the other signees here, had a down year in 2010 but could certainly profit from a change of scenery, especially one where the National League is involved. He also shouldn’t be too expensive, and can again be given a relatively inexpensive contract and maybe a second or third year, if necessary to keep the cost low. He sucks in 2012? You cut him loose for a fraction of the price you paid Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo to get bent in 2011. He has a career resurgence, posting another 2.8 (2007) or even 1.2 (2008) WAR season? Congratulations, you own him for another year or two well below market value, and he becomes a tradable commodity once our minor league studs begin to mature. Well done, GM!
So, there you have it. Twenty-five players, $107 million, and enough left over for a latte or two. Actually, enough is left over to add a player or two at the deadline if we surprise everyone (except me, of course) and contend, or if one or two of the free agents suggested here come at a slightly higher price point. We could also send out some minor-league contracts and non-guaranteed invites to spring training for a few players worth a look. Dontrelle Willis, who stopped looking utterly lost for the Cincinnati Reds toward the season’s end, might be that type of player, as well maybe Chris Young, who pitched very well in April before
decomposing getting injured. Aaron Miles might be had real cheap, and would provide insurance at the infield positions, should it be needed and he accept a minor league deal. And, should we want organizational depth that badly, I hear there’s a 33-year-old shortstop from some jerkwater town nearby who’s coming off a contract and, though past his prime and a huge tool bag, we could toss half a mil his way and give him a slot on the forty-man roster, if only to keep him off the unemployment line. And so we can force him to lick clean every toilet in the stadium. Yes, yes, that would be just fine…
See? There’s a good major-league lineup, one that might be able to surprise a few people should the chips fall right, and all for under our projected budget of $110 million. And, should we stop sucking like the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked, enough butts might find the seats in Shea Stadium Shea Stadium (that’s just what I’m calling it – deal with it) that we might have an extra dollar or two floating around to make some serious additions in July for the stretch run. Gosh, what would that be like? But we can do it! We can compete! It’s not impossible! We can do it! Or, we could take our $110 million, bet it on black, and use the winnings to sign CC Sabathia. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad plan, either…