I'm going to tell you a story about the 2012 New York Mets -- a story you know, but you've never heard before. It's a fantastic story of hope and promise. And it's true.
Imagine that it's Opening Day, 2012. Yes, seven or so months ago. We're sitting around, making predictions about what the new year will bring, and we come up with the following.
1) Johan Santana will pitch the Mets first ever no-hitter.
2) R.A Dickey and David Wright will put up Cy Young and MVP caliber seasons, respectively.
3) Ike Davis will hit 30 homers.
4) Jonathon Niese will throw a sub-3.50 ERA over 30 starts.
5) Dillon Gee will show that 2011 wasn't a fluke, and he's a viable SP.
6) Matt Harvey will make his Major League debut, putting up a sterling 2.73 ERA and 10.6 K/9 over 10 starts.
7) While Ruben Tejada won't make us forget Jose Reyes, he'll establish himself as a viable starting shortstop.
Now imagine if that came true -- which, of course, isn't so hard to imagine, because it did, in fact, come true. All you would need is for the other stuff to break the right way and suddenly, you'd be a decent team. Not a 90-win team but probably sniffing at .500 with an outside chance at the other wildcard.
We all know that nothing else went right. Well, little things did. Like Bobby Parnell and Jon Rauch were decent enough relievers; Daniel Murphy's bat was average(which is fine); and Chris Young also gave us 20 starts of league average ball. But after that, the team was basically awful.
But let's focus on the good, shall we?
Right now, the Mets have four guys on the roster which most any MLB team would take. Those four guys, for avoidance of doubt, are David Wright, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, and Matt Harvey. They're the top.
Then there are a few other guys who make sense on this team in clear and obvious ways. Tejada, Ike, Parnell. and Gee spring to mind. At their price point and given how much team control we have over them, it makes little sense to try and upgrade any of those four spots -- and, as they all have significant upside, they could be big assets for years to come.
And the bottom of the roster isn't terrible either. Baxter and Valdespin both have clear value, and Justin Turner gave my son a baseball, signed it, and then chatted with him for about ten minutes, so he's cool. The motley crew of minor league callups which made our bullpen last year -- Edgin, Elvin, Carson, etc. -- aren't bad either. And Collin McHugh has potential and was serviceable. Again, most MLB teams would be okay with these guys as their roster filler.
The problem: Much like a bagel, we have nothing in the middle. And unlike bagels, that's a bad thing.
So, let's blow it up.
My goal here is simple: I want to build a team for 2013 which, if things break right, could surprise people. I want to build a team which solves at least one or two problems for 2014 without creating more. And I want to respect fans by keeping the guys who made 2012 worth watching, rare as it may have been.
The Easy Stuff
- Extend Wright and Dickey. Wright gets $102m/6 years, Dickey $30/3, but there's an option with a $3m buyout at the end (so the annual value is $9m, not $10m)
- Re-sign Chris Young; non-tender Mike Pelfrey and offer him an incentive-based deal (ideally a minor league one as described below). My strategy here is to bolster the rotation by collecting guys who have 100 ERA+ potential. With Young, Pelfrey, and McHugh, I have three.
- Tender Thole a contract and re-sign Kelly Shoppach. Straight platoon here.
- Re-sign Scott Hairston or sign Jonny Gomes. One year, $2m.
- Non-tender Manny Acosta and Andres Torres. Offer both one year, $1 or $2m contracts. I expect both to decline.
The Fun Stuff
1) Make Johan my closer.
I've talked about this before -- you should go read this. The salient points, however, are threefold:
a) We don't know exactly why Johan fell apart in July. It could have been all ankle, as Reid Johnson caught him there during a play at 1B right around when the Santana Train became derailed. It could be wear and tear from a long season. And it could be general malaise from a few surgeries and rehabs. Unless it's just the ankle, and assuming the ankle has healed, I don't think Johan is going to be able to handle 160 IP of work. Not even close.
b) Our bullpen is a mess. Perhaps our best RP, Jon Rauch, wasn't very good -- and he's a free agent regardless. Ramon Ramirez is gone, too, as is Tim Byrdak. Frank Francisco is not a very good high leverage reliever. We're going to need help there, and we can use another lefty, too.
c) Investing money in the bullpen is a fool's errand, especially when there are so many holes and so few dollars.
Moving Santana to the closer role fixes all these -- and really, it doesn't open up a hole in the rotation. The Mets have to approach 2013 with Santana being, at best, a 15 start solution. Doing anything else is a failure in planning.
2) Trade Lucas Duda to Tampa Bay (with someone TBD) for Matt Joyce.
Duda's trade value probably isn't nearly as low as most people think. He's a fine hitter and doesn't have terrible splits. He's just not a 4th or 5th slot hitter, and your offense can't rely on him to be that guy; and he's not a corner OF, and certainly not a RF. He is best at 1B on an AL team (because of the DH) with a solid RH bat off the bench, allowing the team to platoon him or, in the very least, get the RH bat in the lineup more often than would otherwise be typically viable.
The Mets desperately need a corner OF who can start 140++ games in the outfield. We need him for 2013 and beyond,. Heck, the Mets need three such guys. Joyce is one.
This works for Tampa Bay because they need to replace Carlos Pena and would save about $3 million on the younger and pre-arb Duda (Joyce is Arb 1). We'd probably have to add someone else in, though -- maybe Zach Lutz, Elvin Ramirez, or Robert Carson. I'm going to add Lutz in to make the rest of the AAOP writing easier on me. I'm a bit of a cheater, I guess.
3) Sign Melky Cabrera to a two year, $18 million deal with an option.
Beggars can't be choosers. The only question here is, who's the beggar?
I think Melky can get a one year, $6 million with $3m in incentives deal from just about any team in the Majors -- including the Mets. I'm going a bit further here.
First, I'm going to guarantee $8 million and drop the incentives. That comes out about equal. And second, I'm going to make it for two years. Why? Because I don't really care about 2013 as much as I care about 2014. If Melky has a bad year, I'm willing to cry a tear and suck up a one year, $8m contract for 2014. If he has a good one, I'm going to want him here.
The third year is a $10m or $11m option with a $2m buyout.
Note that the two items above give us two starting-caliber outfielders (hopefully) for 2014.
4) Re-sign Ronny Cedeno to a one-year, $2 million deal.
Ronny Cedeno put up a .332 OBP and .410 SLG last year in 186 PA. He can play SS, 2B, and 3B. He's a career .290 OBP and .357 SLG. He's not very good but he's probably worth $2 million... if he were a starter. Which brings me to the most fun of the fun part.
Daniel Murphy put up a .332 OBP and .403 SLG last year in 571 PA. He can't really play defense. He's an Arb 1 guy likely to make $3m this year.
Jordany Valdespin isn't going to be my 2B. But neither is Murphy. There are a bunch of cheap-ish free agents out there -- Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Keppinger lead the list -- who are meh, but are also (a) maybe $2 million and (b) capable starters. We have a backup 2B in Valdespin, so I'm cashing out on Murphy's value as a serviceable 1B/2B/3B who can hit .320 with a bucket of doubles, and making Cedeno my starter.
On the other hand, the Giants are a win-now team who just survived having Ryan Theriot, Emmanuel Burriss, and Joaquin Arias patrol second base until Marco Scutaro arrived near the deadline. Scutaro is a 37 year old free agent, so Sandy can call up his favorite trade pal Brian Sabean and restock the minor league shelves.
Susac is a B- catching prospect per Sickles. He has decent plate discipline (55 BB in 426 PA in A+ last year), throws out base runners, but has a passed ball and strikeout problem. He's a good guy to have in the system, with a decent shot at being a league-average catcher in a few years. I ask for the org guy middle infielder for depth purposes, and yes, this deal effectively makes Justin Turner my backup SS, as he'd slot into 2B and shift Cedeno over in case of injury.
* * *
Rotation: Dickey, Niese, Harvey, Gee, Young (with Pelfrey, McHugh, Hefner as plug-ins and Wheeler as an August call-up)
Bullpen: Santana, Francisco, Parnell, Edgin all get spots. The other three go to Hefner/McHugh (long-man), and, after that, an open competition between guys like Mejia, Familia, Acosta, Carson, Elvin Ramirez and other AAA guys, minor league contracts, and ST invitees. Ideally, Mejia and Familia go to AAA to hope to refine their pitches. I'd be OK with a bullpen rounded out with Acosta, Elvin, and Carson.
- CF Melky
- SS Tejada
- 3B Wright
- 1B Davis
- RF Joyce
- LF Gomes/Baxter
- 2B Cedeno
- C Thole/Shoppach
Bench: Gomes, Baxter, Shoppach, Valdespin, Justin Turner
- Johan Santana: $20.5m. Note that $5m of his $25.5m salary is deferred until June 30, 2020.
- Jason Bay, $18.125m. Some is deferred.
- David Wright, $17m
- RA Dickey, $9m
- Melky, $8m
- Franky Frank, $6.5m
- Niese, $3.05m
- Matt Joyce, $3m
- Ike Davis, $2.8m
- 2 million guys: Cedeno, Shoppach, Young, Gomes
- $1.5 million guys: Thole
- $1 million guys: Parnell.
- MLB minimum ($500k) guys: Tejada, Baxter, Valdespin, Turner, Harvey, Gee, Hefner, Edgin, Elvin Ramirez, Carson
TOTAL: $103,475,000. That doesn't include Pelfrey or any incentives for others. It also doesn't include Santana's $5 million deferred, and assumes Bay is getting 100% of his money due (except for the buyout). So there's probably some room, or if you insist I actually pay Pelfrey/Santana, that can be done, too.