With the advent of the second Wild Card, it has become easier than ever to make the playoffs. The Mets haven't made the end-of-season tournament since 2006. Since that season, they have come up short in varying degrees; I aim to change that. The Mets are still hampered by the Wilpons' Madoff involvement, but that doesn't mean we can't improve the team. We have an impressive crop of young players and a pair of All-Star-caliber veterans. With some smart moves to compliment these assets, a trip to the post season should be within reach.
After a somewhat predictably laborious offensive season without Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes (t-20th in the MLB with a 93 wRC+), the team needs an offensive infusion of talent to go along with a pitching staff that shows promise, but needs augmentation (20th in the MLB with a 4.09 ERA, 15th with a 3.93 FIP).
Unite Childhood Friends:
For too long David Wright has had to carry this team on his back. He had a resurgent season (140 wRC+, 7.8 fWAR), but with his contract ending after the 2013 season, he needs some incentive to remain a Met. We need to show him that we are serious about contending again. What better way to do that than to bring in two talented players who also happen to be friends of Wright's from his youth in Virginia?
Coming from Arizona is OF Justin Upton in exchange for IF Daniel Murphy, RHP Jeurys Familia, OF Brandon Nimmo, and RHP Mike Pelfrey. It has been reported that the Diamondbacks are looking to part ways with the young and talented outfielder (they even traded his best friend on the team, Chris Young, for a less than inspiring package), and in exchange are looking for a 3B and a veteran pitcher. They get that in Murphy and Pelfrey along with arguably our #2 and #3 prospects. In Justin Upton, we get a 25 year-old RF who has an MVP-caliber season under his belt (6.4 fWAR in 2011). Last season saw him hurt his thumb which helped conspire to limit his production by way of a .150 ISO. A year removed from the injury should see him rebound accordingly. There are some concerns that taking him out of Chase Filed's hitter-friendly environment will hurt him unduly. These fears, while not entirely fabricated, are often overstated since home-road splits are a blunt instrument with a few notable flaws. Among active players, only four have amassed more home runs by the age of 25 (Pujols, Cabrera, Fielder, and Dunn). That is an accomplishment that even the friendliest park can't diminish. In fact, even if he had played every game of his career in Citi Field, he would have lost only 4 home runs total. Justin Upton has a career 116 wRC+, .359 wOBA, and is a positive contributor in the field (9.6 UZR) and on the base paths (14.4 Base Running Runs).
In the deal the D-backs get a 2-3 fWAR player to man third base who is under control for two additional season, an experienced, league-average, back of the rotation pitcher, and two high-upside, grade B prospects. If the talent seems light to you, add in RHP Luis Mateo who would likely be a grade C+ or higher prospect. Justin Upton comes with a contract that pays him as such: 2013:$9.75M, 2014:$14.25M, 2015:$14.5M. He does have a limited no-trade clause, but it shouldn't be a problem due to Wright's presence and his less than enthusiastic treatment at the hands of the Diamondbacks' owner.
To complete the reunion, in comes BJ Upton on a deal identical to what remains of his brother's; 3-years/$38.5M paying $9.75M in 2013, $14.25M in 2014, and $14.5M in 2015. The contract is probably not the biggest the 28 year-old could fetch, but the added bonus of the opportunity to team up with his brother and childhood friend to remake a franchise in desperate need of a face lift should make us a prime destination for the elder Upton and seal the deal. BJ Upton has a career 107 wRC+ and four years of an fWAR >4 to his name. He should play a scratch center field (UZR's of -2.4, 1.4, and 1.4 the last 3 seasons) and be an asset on the base paths (5 seasons of 30+ SB's and a career 28.5 Base Running Runs).
BJ Upton will cost us a first round pick in compensation since Tampa Bay submitted a qualifying offer. Of course this isn't ideal, but I will address this later.
Address the Remainder of the Outfield:
One of the prime culprits in our offense's lackluster production was the outfield. Last season our OF combined for a .696 cumulative OPS (the NL average was .757). The local kid and no-hitter-saving hero, Mike Baxter, performed admirably in 5th OF duty (114 wRC+, 9.3 OF UZR/150 in 2012); he should be a fine option for the role yet again. Scott Hariston had a career year (118 wRC+, .286/.317/.550 vLHP) but is probably looking for one last payday. He will likely be too expensive for a 4th/5th OF role. The brothers Upton go a long, long way to attend to our needs, but more is needed.
In a three-way deal, in comes OF Micheal Taylor from Oakland and catcher Carlos Perez from Houston (more on Perez later) with IF Josh Satin, 3B Jefry Marte, and SS Jiovanni Mier (from HOU) going to Oakland and RHP Akeel Morris and OF Kirk Niuewenhuis going to Houston. The Athletics have a log-jam in the outfield and need to address the left side of their infield. Satin serves as a prototypical Beane type who can hit some but is as un-toolsy as they come. Marte and Mier gives their system a boost in the form of a power-bat and a good eye for 3B and SS respectively. Houston gets a near-ready outfielder in Niuewenhuis and a pitcher with late-inning potential in Morris. In Taylor we get a once highly thought of prospect who was floundering in a situation with limited opportunity. He represents an upgrade over Nieuwenhuis in that he is just as good an athlete, but has a better eye (has only reached a K% >20 twice in his MiBL career as opposed to 5 times) and speed (89 career MiLB steals as opposed to 47). He also comes with average range, a good arm, and some power-potential. Taylor will compete with Lucas Duda (101 wRC+ in 2012) for the starting left field job. With regard to Duda, the improved defense in CF and RF and the shift to LF should help him. Even if you don't believe so, it's worth giving him the chance to up his value before selling. Taylor is pre-arb and will make the MLB minimum. We also receive $200K from Oakland in the deal.
Round Out the Rest of the Lineup:
In the absence of Murphy, who now calls the desert hot-corner home, we don't have an every day caliber second basemen. Justin Turner is an okay option as a 25th man (career 97 wRC+, -11.5 UZR at 2B. 0.2 UZR at 3B), but is not an every-day player. Jordany Valdespin is an interesting option with his power/speed combination, but is probably better served as a guy who gets 300 PA's filling in all over the field. Wilmer Flores is a big-bat prospect and should be given every opportunity Murphy received to transition to the position. However, Flores is at least a year away from an MLB promotion.
In comes SS/2B Hiroyuki Nakajima on a 2-year/$7M contract. Via the NPB, Nakajima brings a resumé that includes four All-Star nods and a Mitsui (Golden Glove) Award. With a career .302/.371/.472 slash line in Japan (and success with the new ball), he should be good for a respectable line, be a fine return on investment, and stopgap until Flores is ready.
To help with the infield depth, IF Brooks Conrad is added on a minor league contract. The 32 year old has elected minor league free agency after finishing the 2012 season in the Rays system. He has had a few nice years with the bat in is career (118 wRC+ in 2010, 95 wRC+ in 2011) and could make for a decent pinch hitter if Baxter, Turner, or Valdespin falter. Also being added on a minor league deal is MI Omar Quintanilla who heads to Las Vegas with Conrad. Before he was moved for cash considerations, he filled in admirably (100 OPS+, .05 bWAR in 80 PA's with us in 2012) as an injury replacement and should be able to do so again if the need were to arise.
Kelly Shoppach is re-signed to a 1-year/$1.5M contract with a team option of $1.75M for 2014 and becomes the primary catcher. He finished the 2012 season with a 96 wRC+, which if he can duplicate, will make him a valuable part of the team. Josh Thole is used for the majority of Dickey's starts in addition to normal backup playing time. In addition, Carlos Perez in added to the organization in the above-mentioned Michael Taylor trade. The 22-year old catcher is touted as a positive contributor on both sides of the ball as a plus defender with good plate discipline and some potential power. I've acquired him every AAOP so far and I'm still a believer. He likely heads to St. Lucie to start the year but a mid-season promotion to Binghamton would not be out of the question.
Rebuild the Bullpen:
Alderson continued his tweaking of the bullpen and it was again a mixed bag of "bad" with too little "good" (29th in the MLB with a 4.65 ERA, 27th with a 4.13 FIP). Bobby Parnell continued his development (2.62 BB/9, 2.49 ERA, 2.99 FIP) and is a definite late-inning asset. Ramon Ramirez followed up several years of solid, if unspectacular performance with the worst season of his career (4.95 BB/9, 4.24 ERA). At 31, it wouldn't be out of the question that this is what we can expect from him going forward so he is let go via free agency. Frank Francisco had about as bad of a season as you could have predicted (4.46 BB/9, 5.53 ERA, 4.10 xFIP). Tim Byrdak had an difficult season before succumbing to arm trouble. In his stead, Josh Edgin had a promising debut and showed himself capable of primary LOOGY duty (10.52 K/9, 3.51 BB/9). In a late-season promotion Elvin Ramirez and Robert Carson showed live arms but struggled with big innings. Manny Acosta, although treated like a pariah, is a decent option as a injury fill-in. He starts the year in Las Vegas. Jon Rauch had a somewhat surprisingly good season (1.87 BB/9, 3.59 ERA, 3.89 FIP), but in doing so probably priced himself out of a job in Queens.
To clear out some of the clutter, in a cost-saving move, Francisco is traded to Detroit along with $3M for LHP Kelvin De La Cruz. The 24 year-old De La Cruz has a live arm but has never put it together and is unlikely to do so. He winds up in Binghamton where a move to the bullpen might help his career. The real reason for the move is the $3.5M in savings that trading the remainder of Francisco's contract affords us. That leaves us with four bullpen spots to fill.
In comes RHP Joakim Soria on a 2-year/$6M contract with a player opt-out after the 2013 season. Coming off his second Tommy John surgery, Soria is a good buy-low candidate in the hopes that he can follow in the footsteps of Chris Carpenter and Chris Capuano and find his previous All-Star-level production of a ≥9 K/9 and a ≤3 BB/9. We can offer Soria the opportunity to close games and the option year gives him a bit of insurance in case he can't quite resurrect his career to its previous highs, but allows him to seek a bigger contract if he can.
Also coming aboard is old hand LHP Hisanori Takahashi on a 1-year/$1M contract with a team option for 2014 paying $2M. After a less than impressive two-year stop with the Angels, "Tak" should come cheep but can still be relied upon to be a workhorse from the pen in a swing-man role as his K/9 never dropped below 6.9.
Additionally, RHP Evan Meek and LHP Hideki Okajima are signed to a pair of 1-year/$750K deals. Meek sports a career 3.34 ERA and 3.99 FIP but is coming off a down year (6.00 K/9, 4.50 BB/9, 6.75 ERA in 2012). He should make an average-to-above-average late inning reliever. Okajima is coming back to the states after a brief but successful stop in the NPB (0.94 ERA in 47.2 innings). The lefty will serve as a second option behind Edgin but historically has had success agianst righties as well.
Finally, RHP Bobby Jenks, RHP Tyler Buchholz, RHP Manny Corpas, RHP Brain Bannister, and LHP Daniel Herrera are brought in (or retained in Herrera's case) on minor league deals and will battle with Ramirez and Carson for the 7th spot in the pen in Spring Training. If they figure it out/stay healthy, we have a potentially useful piece at league minimum. If not, we didn't risk anything except time.
Round out the Rotation:
Where the bullpen faltered, the rotation achieved (11th in the MLB with a 3.83 ERA, 9th with a 3.83 FIP). The rotation was lead by 8th wonder of the world and Cy Young Award winner, RA Dickey. Quite simply, you couldn't have drawn up a better season for the knuckler, posting career highs in innings pitched (233), K/9 (8.86), complete games (5), and shutouts (3) and career lows in BB/9 (2.08), ERA (2.79), and FIP (3.27). Jonathan Niese continued his progression with the best season of his career to date (7.33 K/9, 2.32 BB/9, 3.40 ERA) and is on his way to becoming a #2-caliber pitcher. Dillon Gee pitched very well (7.96 K/9, 2.38 BB/9, 3.71 FIP) before being shut down when a clot was discovered in his right shoulder. Thankfully, the surgery to remove it went swimmingly and he's due to start the season on time. After a impressive July 26th debut, wonderkid Matt Harvey posted a superb rookie season (10.62 K/9, 3.94 BB/9, 2.73 FIP, 3.30 ERA). It would be unwise to expect a repeat performance in his sophomore campaign, but he should be a more than serviceable starter. Johan Santana didn't have a great year (8.54 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 4.85 ERA, 4.09 FIP), but making it back to a major league roster is a victory in and of itself for the capsule tear survivor. He eventually had to be shutdown, but thankfully for minor, unrelated reasons including a sore ankle after a collision at 1B. Chris Young served as an injury replacement and pitched the most innings in years (115) but was merely serviceable (6.26 K/9, 2.82 BB/9, 4.15 ERA). He is brought back on a minor league deal and heads to Las Vegas. With Jenrry Mejia (2.93 BB/9 along with being a ground ball machine in Buffalo in 2012), Jeremy Hefner (1.73 BB/9, 3.66 FIP in 2012), and Collin McHugh (7.17 K/9 in 2012) also in AAA in case of injury, our rotation is set.
To address some of the pitching depth traded away from the system, RHP Jason Knapp is signed to a minor league deal. The former 2nd round pick of the Phillies was considered the key piece in the Cliff Lee trade in 2009 and was ranked the 64th prospect in baseball in 2010 by B-A. Since then he has had some shoulder troubles and was released by the Indians last season. Consistently reaching K/9's of 9 or more and showcasing moderate control in Class A, the 22 year-old has lost time but shows promise. He heads to Savannah.
Additionally, to make up for the loss of a 1st round pick for signing BJ Upton, 18 year-old Japanese high school phenom RHP Shohei Otani is signed to a contract with a $2M signing bonus. The bonus puts us over the IFA budget, but Otani is essentially an early 1st round talent with his 6'4" frame, mid-to-high 90's fastball, and several offspeed offerings and therefore is worth the tax. The Mets have $2.9M to spend in the international market and have already spent $1.75M of it on Dominican SS German Ahmed Rosario. The penalty for going over the IFA allotment by 15% or more is 100% of the amount exceed by. With Otani's signing, our total IFA bonuses reach $3.75M, or $850K over the budget - which is the amount we are taxed. It's doubtful the fireballer will be able to get significantly more than $2M from any other team and the promise of New York should be a draw. He goes to Brooklyn for the 2013 season and finds a home comfortably on our top-10 prospects list.
(Click images to embiggen)
Additions: Justin Upton, BJ Upton, Michael Taylor, Joakim Soria, Shohei Otani, Hiroyuki Nakajima, Evan Meek, Hisanori Takahashi, Hideki Okajima, Carlos Perez, Jason Knapp, Brooks Conrad, Omar Quintanilla, Kelvin De La Cruz
Departures: Daniel Murphy, Jeurys Familia, Brandon Nimmo, Scott Hariston, Frank Francisco, Mike Pelfrey, Ramon Ramirez, Jon Rauch, Andres Torres, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Miguel Bautisa, Jefry Marte, Josh Satin, Akeel Morris (possibly Luis Mateo)
Guaranteed Contracts: $74.165M
Contracts via Arbitration: $6.6M (Via MLBTR arbitration projections which seem a bit high)
Contracts via Extensions: $1.5M
Contracts via FA/Trades: $25.95M
Money via Taxes: $0.85M
Total 2013 Payroll: $109.065M