It doesn't always feel like it, but the future is bright for us Mets fans. Due to a good draft and a smart trade, we now have four legitimate starting pitcher prospects working their way up the system. We have some young and cheap major-league talent filling several of our everyday starting positions. And slowly but surely we are shedding some of our onerous, big contracts.
Competing in 2012 is not really a realistic expectation, but we can reasonably field a team with talent and excitement, while continuing to build for that future nucleus that is likely still a year away (at least). The way to do that is to limit long-term contracts that will weigh us down for years to come, as we've experienced the last few years. And to continue to nurture and build around our young talent.
Like most longtime Mets fans, I'm a big fan of Reyes and Wright. But also like most Mets fans, I am keenly aware of this franchise's habit of executing moves in an emotional context, to satisfy fans' short-term desires, impress Mike Francesa, and win some headlines -- while tying up the club's payroll for years to come.
Much as we love them, the Mets have been a sub-.500 team with Reyes and Wright for the last three years. Now with Reyes' free agency, we would need to pay substantially more than we are now, just for the privilege of getting to keep this same sub-optimal team the way it was.
I respect the views of those who want to keep Reyes (in my heart, I want to, too). But in my view, it is not the best decision for the club given its current circumstances. If what we have now isn't working, why would we pay even more for it, and lock ourselves into a lot more money over the long term, just to keep the same team (and by spending even more, prevent ourselves from having much latitude to improve the rest of the club)?
REYES LEAVES. I am a big fan of Jose, but his contract does not make sense for the needs of this club, outlined above. Were we only on the hook for, say, three years, re-signing him would be a no-brainer, obviously. But we're not. To keep him, we'll have to overpay him for years 4,5,6, and 7 of the contract, which will only perpetuate the too-long-contract disease that currently plagues us (read: Johan Santana). The simple fact is that while Jose is a great player, it is very likely that whoever is paying him $23 million in 2018 will not be happy.
So we will reluctantly let another team sign Reyes, to whom we are grateful for many wonderful seasons, to a contract that extends well into the wrong side of his 30s.
This will create holes in the short-term (but flexibility), which we will address below.
WRIGHT STAYS. Since trading Reyes is a tacit admission that we are not contending this season, but rather looking to get younger and cheaper, one could argue that we should also consider trading David Wright this off-season.
But I am not doing that this off-season for a few reasons:
1) He is coming off of a down year. His trade value is the lowest its ever been, so it makes no sense to trade a face of the franchise for less than he may be worth later.
2) Relatedly, with the fences coming in, David may improve dramatically, which either makes him a must-keep or raises his value to be traded before the deadline.
3) Because David has one year on his contract plus a team option, trading him now would mean the other team gets him for one season. Well, if we keep him now and exercise his 2013 option, the same situation holds at the end of next season. So no point in dealing him now, when his trade value is lower, but the appeal of his contract status will be unchanged in a year.
So we're keeping David for now ($15 million).
TEJADA STARTS AT SS. If Reyes leaves, Ruben starts at SS, we see what he have and hope for the best. We will assuredly need to make up lots of production lost at this position. ($.5 million)
IKE AT 1B, DUDA AT RF. These cheap studs are cornerstones of the rebuilding process, above-average hitters at ML-minimum prices. ($.5 million and $.5 million))
TRADE JASON BAY AND $5 MILLION FOR CHONE FIGGINS. This is pretty much a salary dump, plain and simple. I know the fences are coming in, and that Bay had a good final month, but two years is a big enough sample for me to be convinced it ain't happening for him here in New York. Yes, Figgins is a disaster but the Mariners are desperate to unload him and try to get some value (he is currently slated to be a $9.5 million bench player for them). If they believe Bay may have something left and do this, we get Figgins along with his contract which has $17m remaining, while sending Bay and his contract that has $35 million left. So we send them $5 million ($2.5 million in 2012 and $2.5 million in 2013) for a total net gain for us of $13 million. Also, Figgins will come into play in a bit later (read on). (Figgins: $9.5 million + 2.5 million payout = $12 million)
TRADE DANIEL MURPHY, MARK COHOON, & DILLON GEE FOR LOGAN MORRISON. I know we all love Murph, but there's a real problem that I always find myself trying to overlook: The man doesn't really have a position, and the one where we need him most (2B) he simply can't stay healthy. If we're keeping Wright (and I am for now), Murph is not a 3B. In the alignment I have (and honestly, in general) his greatest value is as a 2B. But he has now suffered two season-ending injuries at the position completing double plays. That worries me. So I'm trading him and the potentially over-rated Dillon Gee (whose peripherals are not as impressive as his rookie total of 13 wins) to Florida, who needs a starting pitcher (Gee), has an opening at 3B (it was manned by Greg Dobbs in 2011, now a free agent), and who is in a very awkward spot with Morrison, whom they demoted in 2011 and subsequently had a grievance filed against them by him. Assuming they want to trade him, this is a decent haul in return.
For the Mets, you're trading a good player with no natural spot in the organization (and injury worries) along with a marginal, overvalued starting pitcher, for what may potentially be an outfield piece to build around. If people in the comments section say I need to add more to this haul to get Morrison, I'm open to that and make this happen.
Morrison is my starting LF, replacing the departed Bay. (Morrison: $.5 million)
TRADE CORY VAUGHN AND F-MART FOR CHRIS IANETTA. Colorado has never used Ianetta properly, putting him behind Yorvit Torrealba for years, and now giving the job to their prospect Wilin Rosario. So Ianetta is expendable, and he is a huge upgrade over Thole. Because he enters the final year of his contract (and he's their backup), his trade value is a bit lower than it should be. We grab him for two good, but not indispensable prospects. Colorado gets two B prospects for a backup catcher in the last year of his contract. ($3.5 million)
GRANT PAGAN ARBITRATION. I know he had an off-year and the organization doesn't love him, but $5 million for a guy who can play a competent CF, steal 30 bases even in an off year, and has demonstrated the potential to get on base, is a decent proposition for me. Add to this the fact that there's no long-term commitment, and the risk is pretty minimal. ($5 million)
TURNER & FIGGINS COMPETE FOR 2B: Reese Havens and Jordany Valdespin are competing to be my second baseman of the future, but I don't have confidence either is ready in 2012. So, rather than address this position in any long-term way, I'm leaving this position open for one of them to take it in 2013, and I'm filling it with basically what we had this year (Turner) plus an attempt at a reclamation project in Figgins. If Figgins doesn't pan out, it doesn't matter because his true value was in shedding us of Bay's contract. Turner is less than ideal, but he was serviceable in 2011, and he can mind the store until the young studs are ready. (Turner: $.5 million)
DICKEY, SANTANA, NIESE LEAD ROTATION. Here's hoping Johan is healthy. If so, we've got our first 3 spots set in the rotation. (Santana $24m, Dickey $5m, Niese $.5m).
BRING BACK PELFREY & CAPUANO. The bottom line is there's very little out there on the FA market to improve a staff. And we don't have a ton of trading chips to dangle, either. So we're bringing back our guys, neither of whom are Cy Young contenders, but both of whom are credible back-end of the rotation starters (and neither will require us to engage in a long term contract). Let's give Pelf arbitration ($5m). With the expectations to be a #4 rather than an ace, maybe he calms down. And Capuano kept the team in games. We'll sign him for a 2-year, $9-million contract. (Pelf $5m, Capuano $4.5m)
ROTATION BACK-UP POSSIBILITIES: CHRIS YOUNG, CHIEN-MING WANG, BRAD PENNY. These are all minimal 1-yr/$1m invitations with incentives if they contribute. Young, if healthy, showed he can get guys out (regardless of velocity). Wang was never reliant on the K, so if Washington doesn't work something out, we give him a shot. And Penny is strictly a guy who can fill the Miguel Batista role (#5 starter if someone goes down and there's no one ready in AAA) while being somewhat better, Miguel's final start notwithstanding. (total $3 million)
BULLPEN SIGNINGS: SAITO, DOTEL, NATHAN. Saito gets $1.5 million, Dotel was unable to get St. Louis to take his $3.5m option but he'll get $3 million from us, and Nathan gets an incentive-laden contract of $7 million over 2 years. (Saito 1.5 million, Dotel 3m, Nathan 3.5m).
REMAINING BULLPEN: Byrdak (1.2m), Parnell (.5m), Acosta (1m), T Buchholz (.8m).
REMAINING BENCH: Hairston (1m), Austin Kearns (2m), Satin (.5m), Nickeas (1m)
C IANETTA (3.5)
1B DAVIS (.5)
2B TURNER (.5)
3B WRIGHT (15)
SS TEJADA (.5)
OF MORRISON (.5)
OF PAGAN (5)
OF DUDA (.5)
B FIGGINS (12)
B HAIRSTON (1)
B NICKEAS (.5)
B SATIN (.5)
B KEARNS (2)
SP SANTANA (24)
SP DICKEY (4.5)
SP NIESE (.5)
SP PELFREY (5)
SP CAPUANO (4.5)
RP NATHAN (3.5)
RP SAITO (1.5)
RP DOTEL (3)
RP BYRDAK (1.2)
RP PARNELL (.5)
RP BUCHHOLZ (.8)
RP ACOSTA (1)
TOTAL: $92 MILLION
We got younger, leaner, and set up our young guys to take over when they're ready. No burdensome, long-term contracts, and some exciting players to root for. And we have left-over money to make any adjustments now or at mid-season.