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The Mets' Advantage

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The local papers have come to their yearly consensus about the Mets offseason--it's a gap year. While the prospects of 2011 remain bright, the puppet Minaya regime are prisoners of circumstance, trapped in their bailout-funded stadium, recently painted red and blue in their latest failed attempt to appease fans. The evidence is irrefutable. The good free agent hitters won't sign because the park is too big. The good pitchers won't sign because the park isn't actually that big at all. Groundball pitchers are seeking teams with better infield defense, while the flyballs pitchers are just seeking employment. Unfortunately none of that matters, as the Madoff scandal has left the Mets with no budget at all. But we could only be that lucky, as the Wilpons actually made money off the ponzi scheme, and are prepared to invest considerable funds in the aforementioned "good" free agents, actually landmines--likely to fizzle out the second they cash their signing bonuses. 

Fortunately, as is their nature, these writers have made the solution equally clear. The fundamental weaknesses remain minor league depth and fielding, so all the minor the leaguers should be sent post-haste to Toronto in a package for a pitcher who will likely walk after the season's end. Whatever money remains will be divided equally between paying-off some unwitting team to take our defensively-challenged secondbaseman and committing another four years to his similarly inept replacement. 

In reality, however, the Mets have considerable advantages in this market. Many teams are still looking to shed payroll after sub-par attendance. Several talented free agents have been forced to hit the market after disappointing seasons. The Mets have payroll room and two more years of criminal-underpayment of Wright and Reyes to play with. Instead of signing Jon Garland for upwards of $10MM, they should be inquiring on Bronson Arroyo, a pitcher with better stuff and even more durable track-record, who the Reds are trying desperately to give away.  The advantage here is that the Mets get their "innings-eater" on a one-year deal, while gaining leverage in a trade for a player they'd actually want to build around, like Brandon Phillips. Potentially, the Mets could even get Aaron Harang, a solid starter, not quite the caliber of John Lackey--but close enough, for little additional cost. That's $30.25MM dollars to solve their rotation issues and add another "core" player, with a cheap talent cost and without the uncertainty of negotiation, or temptation to overpay. 

Or maybe the Mets will just notice that pitchers better than Jon Garland and Jason Marquis are being desperately ditched by other teams, and get the hint that multi-year, multimillion dollar commitments to pitchers with marginal stuff rarely--if ever--end well. In the never-ending myopia of the Mets brass (and some of their fans), though, the injuries of last season will create a premium on durability. Undoubtedly some nightmarish, Oliver-Perez-part-deux scenario will develop where Jeff Wilpon and John Ricco conference call with "Scott Boras," who is really just Omar Minaya in the other room, forging fake term-sheets between Jon Garland and the Brewers, which he might "accidentally" leave in the fax machine on his way out. 

Get Doug Davis, Claudio Vargas, Odalis Perez, Todd Wellemeyer, whomever. They'll give you the desired 200 generic innings at virtually no cost. Get Brandon Knight back from Korea. Livan. What? Yea, Captain Rubber Arm himself. Pop quiz: who had better peripherals last season: Jon Garland or Livan Hernandez? The answer may surprise you. 

Alternatively, the Mets could take Magglio Ordonez and his $18MM salary off Dave Dombrowski's hands for the inside track in negotiating a Edwin Jackson or Curtis Granderson trade. Same basic idea: rightfield is hardly a sure thing, whether you believe in Jeff Francoeur or not, and the Mets get to leverage their financial advantage to add a player for the long-term. 

Both of those scenarios fill the Mets "holes," both now and in 2011-12, with a little extra cash to burn. Some have speculated that the Wilpon's budget for this season is closer to $20MM, but with so many contracts finally expiring and the luxury-tax threshold rising closer ~$160MM, they can really spend up to $50MM, if they so choose. Let's just take the first trade-scenario, the Reds one, and kind of speculate on a possible team. $31MM leaves $10MM, for the sake of being realistic, which the Mets can use to sign Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus. Those two are solid complements to Pagan and Murphy, who have middle of the order power, when healthy. If the Mets traded for Magglio and E-Jax they could add a Sheets/Harden tandem to the rotation, which gives them four players with ace-potential. Or they could negotiate a backloaded John Lackey contract, not my favorite idea, but definitely an improvement.

Ordonez, Harang, and Arroyo are basically solid-role players with ripcords for 2011. Adding another cheap "core" caliber player also seems more necessity than luxury with Wright and Reyes' costs rising. The Mets added many high-risk, high-upside players in the 2009 offseason, but did so without accounting for the risk. Oliver Perez has no buyout. Francisco Rodriguez will destroy the payroll in 2012. J.J. Putz had an buy-out, but was a waste of talent. Now faced with high-upside free agents available on the cheap, they seem resolved to do the only thing worse: invest long-term in high-risk, no-upside players. In the year 2011, the Mets graduate their best hitting prospects in 8 years, Ike Davis and Reese Havens, but are unable to complement them with a decent leftielder or bullpen, because no one will take on Jason Marquis' contract. Wait, I know how this ends. I'll take the gap-year, please.