Understanding that the Mets will be working on a vastly reduced budget from what were accustomed to, it seems that we'll be heading for a second straight relatively quiet offseason. The farm system has improved substantially in the last year but could still use some more top shelf talent. Our bullpen was atrocious and there are a few question marks in our rotation. Jose Reyes is free to leave if he so chooses, and resigning him will likely prevent us from addressing the other needs with impact talent. The Jason Bay vest watch is also set to begin this season, so that situation could use some addressing. Sandy did a nice job in 2011 in building for the future while still putting a fun to watch team on the field and I have no doubt that the same can be done in 2012.
Before I get to the major questions of the offseason, I want to figure out what to do with our arbitration eligible players. Out of our 5 players, I'm going to tender contracts to 3 of them and allow the other 2 to test the free agent waters. Angel Pagan is a no-brainer to me. Assuming he makes about 4.5 million in arbitration he'd be close to market value even if he repeats his poor performance from this season. He's also got 5+ WAR upside, so the potential for enormous surplus value is certainly there. Pagan should have a spot on this roster, and given a solid year he could easily net us draft pick compensation as a free agent in 2013. You just can't go wrong with that on a one year deal.
Mike Pelfrey was a bit tougher decision. Assuming he'd make about 5 million in arbitration means he'll likely be worth somewhere in the vicinity of his contract. He's got very limited upside, but he's also as close to a sure thing as you can get to stay healthy for an entire season. I'd hang on to big Pelf this year as I just don't think there are many great options in this free agent market. I'd rather give Pelf a shot to establish a little more trade value, possibly netting us some mid-level prospects around the deadline if we're ready to push him out of the rotation. Five million is reasonable for a guy capable of giving us a 2-3 WAR season with almost no injury risk (as far as pitchers go). Manny Acosta also did enough to warrant a tender in my eyes, and I'd expect him to recieve about 750,000 for his work this season. Even if he implodes, there isn't much risk here.
Ronny Paulino was an adequate backup, but there are several guys I just like more than him on the market. Assuming he was in line for about 1.5 million, I'm going to let him go and sign a different catcher. Taylor Bucholtz was good when he played, but his depression/anxiety issues scare me enough that I'm going to pass on him. I would offer him a minor league deal however, and I don't really think he'll get a major league offer. Whether or not he enjoyed it enough here to stay I just can't say, but since there aren't many bullpens as poor as ours I'd assume he feels his best chance at returning to the majors would be here. Welcome to Buffalo Taylor...
That's going to leave us with 77.65 million dollars already committed to the 2012 payroll after arbitration decisions. Using 110 million as our budget maximum we now have 32.35 million dollars to spend. That could go a long way, but the first question is a big one.
What do we do about the Jose Reyes situation:
The biggest question surrounding the Mets this offseason will definitely be about how far to go to resign Jose Reyes. Finding a shortstop of his caliber will be nearly impossible, and as a homegrown Met he certainly has additional value to the fanbase. I think he'd probably be signable at between 6/115-6/120, something that the Mets could afford this offseason if they so choose. That would likely leave us with only about 10 million dollars left to spend this offseason, and with such limited funds to spend we really need to be getting quite a bit more than market value out of players if we wish to bridge the gap between ourselves and the legitimate contending clubs. Signing Reyes for 2012 would likely mean we'll be hovering around .500 again unless we get significant bounce backs from Johan Santana (quite possible) and Jason Bay (less likely).
While a shortstop of Reyes ilk is nearly irreplaceable, we do have a perfectly capable youngster who is probably ready to step in and produce 2-3 WAR at the age of 22. Ruben Tejada may not ever produce the same type of 5-6 win seasons that Reyes has done, but he's a near sure thing to produce tens of millions of dollars of surplus value for the next 3-4 seasons. That's something we're far less likely to be getting from Jose Reyes when making in the vicinity of 20 million per year. From a purely economical standpoint I think it makes far more sense to spend 20 million on guys who will likely produce market value in positions where we can't get surplus value form internal options than positions where we can.
Because of this I'm going to let Jose Reyes leave (and I'm probably going to cry), taking the two draft picks as compensation for the best shortstop in the history of the franchise and planning to bust slot with both. While I believe that Reyes will be worth every penny of his deal, I feel that we're still a year or two away from reasonably challenging and I'd rather have as few big money contracts on the book at that time as possible. Assuming we're in position to challenge for the wild card in either 2013 (optimistic) or 2014 (much more probable, especially if some prospects pan out), we'll still likely have a league average player already in place at short making the minimum or in his first year of arb. Maybe I'm just a bigger believer in Tejada than most, but I think we're in a better position to lose our starting SS than just about any other team in the majors at the moment. So we still have 32.35 million dollars to spend at this point, but now we have another pretty big question to answer:
What to do with David Wright?
Many people are under the assumption that allowing Reyes to walk means we should go full demolition and trade David Wright as well. While it does bring into question his future, I don't believe we need to trade him unless we get absolutely blown away with a deal. If David is traded this season he's basically a one year rental for the recieving team. If we pick up his option next year his status is basically the same. Unless he's hurt or declines into worthlessness he's not going to lose any real trade value by keeping him this season. It will be good for the fans, and frankly we just don't need the free payroll now that we've let Jose walk. My plan will involve playing out 2012 and then re-assessing Mr. Wright.
Can we unload either of the albatrosses?
We have two multi-year big money contracts left. If we find a Vernon Wells type taker for either of them I pull the trigger in a heartbeat, but I just can't see that happening. Realistically, Johan is near unmovable at this point. Maybe he'll reacquire some value with a strong year this season, but even if he is abysmal it's hard to picture his value dropping. Much like Beltran last year it makes sense to keep him and hope for the best.
Jason Bay may actually be movable. About a week ago my AAOP involved swapping Bay for John Lackey in a crap for poop swap. While Lackey had an extra year, the Bay vest watch scares the hell out of me. That probably got shot to hell when Lackey went under the knife though. Maybe this is a trade to revisit in 2013, but for this winter it's dead. Since I just don't see any other reasonable bad contract swaps that I believe an opposing GM might actually do (and wouldn't make our situation worse), I'm afraid we're stuck with Jason Bay. I'd like to make sure we do what we can to limit his PA's to under 500 just to make 2014 a little less stressful, but if he has to play everyday this season so be it. Unless he returns to his 2009 form we really shouldn't have a hard time replacing him next offseason and relegating him to the bench.
The trade that might get me lynched...
As a team going in to 2012 with an expectation of mediocrity, it would make some sense to listen to offers on some of our older players signed to reasonable deals that likely won't figure into our plans when the rebuild is over. Unfortunately we only have one of those whose value is more than marginal...AA favorite RA Dickey. He's essentially signed for two years at well under market value, durable, and a front half of the rotation starter for virtually any team in baseball. There's not a single team out there that couldn't use him if they plan on contending, and luckily for us the Reds have budget constraints and a gaping need for exactly that type of player. Because of that, I'm going to send Dickey to the Reds in exchange for AAA catcher Yasmani Grandal (our Dickey for their Grandal...hehe) and AAA reliever Brad Boxberger.
Grandal should be pretty well known to most here. He's a switch hitting catcher with good plate discipline and power who's iffy on the defensive side of the ball. He was a popular pick during the 2009 draft among the community here, and he's since shown he's probably capable of sticking. Unfortunately for him, he's not the Reds best catching prospect and therefore potential tradebait in their search for starting pitching. Boxberger has a good stuff and strikes out a ton. If he can limit the walks some he's got incredible potential. The Reds seem to view him as a reliever, but he's had some success as a starter after he was first drafted. He'd be another high upside arm to add to the system, and we can never have enough of those. With Dickey's 4.75 million now off the books we're looking at 37.1 million dollars to spend.
With 37.1 million dollars to spend, it's very possible we could put together a team that could compete for the wild card this season. It's probably still a long shot, but we're going to focus on achieving that goal by predominantly targeting players with the ability to produce surplus value. There will be a lot of question marks, but the ones that perform above expectation should either net good returns at the deadline (if we are well out) or provide compensatory picks after the season (if we are in it). I'm going to focus on short term deals, therefore freeing up payroll again for next year when we may have some help from the farm (and might even be able to move the Canadian Baycon).
My first signing will be Kelly Johnson for 2 years at 8.5 million for year 1 and 6.5 million for year 2. While Daniel Murphy is capable of manning the position, I like his ability to back up the infield corners and provide cover for a number of areas. Johnson would probably provide surplus value at that amount, and in all likelihood fetch a compensatory pick or two if he stays here for 2 full years (the deal is front loaded to increase the odds we offer him arbitration). If we fall well out of the race, we'll likely get a good return on a trade should we so choose. He also provides the ability to play an above average corner outfield should Baywatch reveal Jason is playing too much for the vest. We now have 28.6 million left to spend
Signing number 2 will be Grady Sizemore at 1 year for 8 million dollars with a club option for an additional year at 12 million (I'm assuming his option is declined as it appears it will be). It's probably an overpay, but if he simply plays everyday there's little chance he won't be worth that much money. A healthy Sizemore would fetch a mammoth return at the deadline, especially with a reasonable option attached. Having a second year of team control ensures we can get value from him if he has a tremendous season. I'd be all for playing both he and Pagan together, giving us 2/3 of a solid defensive outfield. This also gives us a pefect excuse to limit Bay's PA's...Duda is clearly the better player right now and should at worst be platooning if Sizemore is healthy. If Grady gives us nothing, at least we can cut our losses after the season. Our funds are down to 20.6 million.
Signing number 3 would be Ryan Doumit for 1 year at 3 million. Doumit is a good hitter for a catcher who can also play the corners of the outfield. With Grandal starting the season at AAA Buffalo Doumit and Thole will be competing for the starting spot. If Grandal forces his way on to the team, we now have a backup outfielder who can act as a third catcher. He's not a bad player to have, and his bat is probably good enough that he'll be at least a type B with an average season. We're down to 17.6 million to spend.
I'll next add another Indians player who's option I believe will be declined, Fausto Carmona at 1 year for 5 million. Carmona is a slightly better Mike Pelfrey. He induces grounders, is not an injury risk (for a pitcher), doesn't walk a ridiculous amount of batters, and doesn't really strike out anyone. This is the one deal without as much upside, but he'd durable and capable of producing 2-3 WAR with a decent defense behind him. If he has a good first half he'll probably have some trade value, if not it's no big loss. We're down to 12.6 million left.
Now we're going to turn to the bullpen. My first addition is going to be Jon Broxton at 1 year for 2.5 million. The upside is obvious, and at worst it's 2.5 million in the toilet. Next is Hong-Chih Kuo at 1 year and 1 million. If he pitches, that will likely be a steal. Joe Nathan is going to be my safe player. I'm going to give him 3 million dollars and see what we have. Finally I'm going to sign Juan Cruz for 750,000. All of these guys are high strikeout pitchers that can probably establish decent value at the trade deadline. All four could potentially net at least one draft pick after the season. Those 4 cost another 7.25 million, dropping our available funds to 5.15 million.
I want to provide some backup for Ruben Tejada, and the perception that we may have a starting gig available should give us bargaining power. I'm going to sign Alex Gonzalez away from the Braves for 1 year at 2.5 million dollars. He's not as good as Ruben, but you could definitely do worse for a backup middle infielder. At least the guy can adequately field SS and has a little power. That leaves us 2.65 million.
I'm going to take that 2.65 million and spend it on more pitching. Rich Harden is the target at 1 year and 2.5 million. He's the ultimate risk/reward pitcher, but we have Chris Schwinden and Dillon Gee in AAA as fallbacks if he breaks down early with Matt Harvey or Mejia if the breakdown takes a while. If he somehow stays healthy we have an incredible trade chip.
Minor League deals
Who knows who will actually sign minor league deals with us, but I'd extend offers to the following guys just for poops and giggles.
Guilermo Mota (just kidding)
Most of those guys probably won't be worth anything, but there's really no risk involved.
This all would leave us with a 25 man roster consiting of the following:
Johan Santana, Rich Harden, Jon Niese, Fausto Carmona, Mike Pelfrey
If you notice Mr. Carrasco missing, it's because I cut him to make roster spots to protect some of our prospects. Justin Turner unfortunately suffered the same fate. Pedro Beato is now hanging out in Buffalo in case of need, as are Dillon Gee, Chris Schwinden, and the ex-Reds prospects we traded for.
I don't like the idea of letting Jose Reyes walk, but Omar Minaya managed to do such a good job in alienating the fanbase that payroll appears to need to be slashed to the point where I just can't justify keeping him. As for the Dickey trade, it just sucks for us as Dickeymaniacs but should be good for the long term health of the team. The farm gets a lot better with these two moves, and this roster shouldn't be noticeably worse than it was last year. It also has the upside to give another couple of injections of talent into the system.
I have a feeling this isn't going to go over very well, so I'm off to find wherever it was that Nick Evans managed to hide during the Jerryball era in NY. At least there I'm sure to be safe from flying objects while this blows over.