As I wrote earlier, the primary goal of the Mets organization this off-season should be to implement better long-term planning (ie, build depth, improve the farm system, obtain more payroll flexibility) – all while fielding a competitive team for 2010.
In other words: finding that sweet spot between building a solid foundation for the future that protects our assets, while trying to field a competitive team for this season.
The way to best attempt this is to use an approach that is tailored to the market that currently exists – a free agent market weak in pitching and deep in some offensive positions, and a trade market loaded with potential pitching bargains from struggling (both financially and baseball-ly) teams.
Every move should be made with the goals of getting younger, better, and more flexible.
CATCHER: Sign Kelly Shoppach at one year, $1.5 million – a former top prospect, Shoppach has shown he can play on the big-league level -- when given a chance – demonstrating 20 HR pop and good defense, that is under-valued.
Shoppach will be a solid, cheap, high upside stopgap at the position until Tholes is ready. He’ll be backed up by cheap, serviceable backup Omir Santos.
FIRST BASE: To buy a year or two while Ike develops, Nick Johnson signs for 1 year at $7 million (and a club option for $9mm for 2011). I know his UZR declined last year, but he’s had a good glove almost all of his career (and I’m banking on him returning to his mean UZR), he is a professional bat, an OBP machine, and a tough guy who can probably handle NY. It’s a nice, relatively inexpensive short-term solution while we wait for Ike to develop.
He is an injury risk and fat, so Murphy will be on our bench ready to back him up if needed.
SECOND BASE: We trade Luis Castillo to Chicago, along with $2 million per year for Jake Fox. As I wrote previously, Fox is a strong right-handed bat/prospect who hit a (no-doubt fluky) .413 with 17 HR in 160 triple-A at bats last year but is under-valued by Chicago because he’s old for a prospect (27), a less-than-stellar fielder, and is blocked in Chicago at the positions he does play (1B - Derrick Lee, 3B - Aramis Ramirez, and C - Geovany Soto).
This has resulted in Fox being no more than a 24th or 25th player on the Cubs bench. So the Cubs trade him to the Mets in return for a solid major leaguer (and again $2 million per season) and fill a hole for two years at 2B while they wait for prized prospect Starlin Castro to develop.
As for the Mets, we will use Fox for a trade down below, and fill our 2B position with
Felipe Lopez and his 7.8 UZR -- a worthy investment if we’re not required to go more than two years and the cost per year is no more than $4 or 5 million. I worry that his season last year is begging for a regression to the mean, but at two years (the same duration we’d be on the hook for Castillo), I can live with paying a better, younger player with more weapons, less money.
SHORTSTOP/3RD BASE: Reyes, Wright
LEFTFIELD: Sign Holliday. It’s a free agent deal for a stud that doesn’t require a prospect-laden trade (think Santana, Piazza, etc), and the guy can play. If they can get him down to just a five year commitment (by offering more per season), that’s a steal. That way you have him under control until he’s 34, a completely reasonable length to a contract. In this scenario, we pay $18.5 million/year over five years.
RIGHTFIELD: I’m a Pagan fan. I’m not going to lie – I toyed with inking Vlad Guerrero to a bargain-basement, one-year, incentive-laden contract (despite injuries, he did manage to hit .300/.347/.498 in the second half last year and post a .343 wOBA for the year) but ultimately decided his lack of mobility and steady decline are not even worth the flyer. Despite a small sample, Pagan earned a look as the starting RF and will bring some speed (and poor judgment) to the bottom of the lineup.
BENCH: Murphy, Santos, we sign Endy C, sign Jerry Hairston Jr, and bring back the hated Tatis for his versatility and power off the bench, and pray that Jerry not over-use him or put him up in situations where double-plays would be deadly.
STARTING PITCHING: Santana, Perez, and Pelfrey ain’t going nowhere
We’re going to bolster our rotation through trades. Not the kind that involves emptying the farm and spending wild sums of money at the same time (Halliday), but ones that enable us to get good, young, cheap talent in deals with teams having recession-based problems, or others like Texas who have pitching surpluses, etc.
Detroit has widely advertised that it needs to move players and it needs to do it now. Edwin Jackson is our goal and we’re going to need to take on a crappy contract to do it. Mets fans, please welcome Jeremy Bonderman.
That's right, the 26-year old Edwin Jackson -- who projects as a #2 or #3 starter and made $2.2 last year but is arbitration-eligible and likely to make $5m – will come along with the albatross that is Bonderman’s contract. The bad news is it’s $12 million. The good news is it’s one year and comes off the books at the end of the year, while Edwin remains in our control. We will ask for a reasonable $1.5 million cash in return to defray some of this contract, so we’re paying Bonderman a still-unseemly $10.5 million.
In return, the Tigers will get relatively cheap (compared to Bonderman, anyway), high-upside SP John Maine and new starting RF Jeff Francoeur, an RBI machine who immediately improves their outfield defense by moving current RF Magglio to the DH spot.
Trade: Francoeur & Maine for E-Jax and Bonderman and $1.5 million cash
Next up we’re going to send Jake Fox, the right-handed bat -- who has beaten up on minor league pitching and showed lots of promise in 200 MLB AB’s last year – along with Nick Evans, Chris Carter, and Bobby Parnell to Texas for well-regarded young SP Derek Holland. Holland struggled in the bigs last year but has huge upside and shown great promise in the minors.
For Texas, Fox gives them the right-handed bat they covet and slots in as their starting DH (replacing the ineffectual David Murphy as Jose Borbon slots into the OF) where his defense does no harm, and Texas attemps to work its magic on him after having had great success with similar late-blooming bat Nelson Cruz. Evans is another right-handed bat, which we know they covet, and comes into camp competing for the starting first baseman job against Chris Davis (and his .284 OBP). And they get Parnell to replenish some of the pitching depth they surrender by losing Holland. The trade helps Texas dig into their pitching depth, fill some holes, and get some cheap talent.
Trade: Jake Fox, Nick Evans, Chris Carter, & Bobby Parnell for Derek Holland.
BULLPEN: K-Rod, Feliciano (re-up at $4 million over 2 years), sign Saito (who is old but gets people out and succeeded in pressure spots in LA and Boston) for $3mm/1yr, sign Joe Beimel for $2mm/1yr, and bring back Sean Green.
THIS LEAVES YOU WITH:
SS REYES (9mm)
2B F LOPEZ (5mm)
CF BELTRAN (20mm)
LF HOLLIDAY (18.5 mm)
3B WRIGHT (10mm)
1B N JOHNSON (7mm)
RF PAGAN (.4mm)
C SHOPPACH (1.5mm)
TOTAL LINEUP: $73.5 MM (including $2MM sent to Chicago)
IF HAIRSTON JR (2mm)
C SANTOS (.4mm)
OF CHAVEZ (1.5mm)
1B MURPHY (.4mm)
IF-OF TATIS (2mm)
TOTAL BENCH: $6.5MM
SP SANTANA (21mm)
SP E JACKSON (5mm)
SP D HOLLAND (.5mm)
SP PELFREY (.5mm)
SP NIESE (.4mm)
SP BONDERMAN (plus $1.5mm cash = 10.5mm)
SP O PEREZ (12mm)
TOTAL ROTATION: $50 MM
RP K-ROD (12mm)
RP FELICIANO (2mm)
RP SAITO (3mm)
RP BEIMEL (2mm)
RP GREEN (1mm)
TOTAL BULLPEN: $20MM
TOTAL PAYROLL: $150 MILLION
This team has a chance to win this year, but is really built for 2011 and beyond. The rotation is loaded with young arms, but if they falter, veterans like Bonderman or Perez can pitch (though not necessarily effectively) while the younger arms like Holland and Niese develop. From a long range perspective, it's a strong nucleus of young arms under our control at basement rates.
Offensively, Holliday brings a huge power punch that we need and Shoppach brings some pop to the 8th slot, but the lineup is balanced with speed, switch-hitters, and good fielders. None of our prospects anywhere are blocked.
After 2010, we lose the Bonderman contract and then have no bad/big contracts, besides one more year of Oliver Perez. The long term health of the club would be strong. And it’d be a fun team to watch.