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Carlos Delgado: His Legacy And His Future

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Carlos Delgado's contract with the Mets is up after this year and it's very likely that we have seen him take the field for the last time as a Met. He isn't returning in 2009 and I suspect he probably won't be back next season, either. Health-wise he should be ready to play the 2010 season, I just don't expect him to be playing it with the Mets.

The latest reverse-engineered Elias Rankings place Delgado well within the range of Type B status, which means if the Mets offer Delgado arbitration and he signs elsewhere the Mets are awarded a sandwich pick after the first round of next June's amateur draft. Sounds great, except that Delgado could actually accept the Mets' offer of salary arbitration, which would probably be bad. Delgado is making $12 million this season, and while his potential salary award isn't governed by the same rules as players who aren't yet eligible for free agency (i.e. it doesn't really matter what he made in 2009), $6 million probably isn't out of the question and I don't know whether the Mets are willing to risk an arbitration award in that ballpark just for the chance to pick up another draft pick. Then again, if Delgado is even reasonably healthy next year -- say, 400+ plate appearances healthy -- he should be productive enough to earn that $6 million and then some.

Disregarding the draft pick for a moment, the Mets could simply resign Delgado to an old-fashioned incentive-laden deal. There's no merit pay in Major League Baseball, so contracts with playing time bonuses are the only real performance-related clauses teams can rely on to hedge their bets on injury-prone ballplayers. As always, there is no guarantee that any particular player will actually be any good, in which case escalators based on plate appearances or innings pitched can backfire on the team, especially if their manager insists on using unproductive players enough to actually reach those escalator thresholds. Given his recent performances, though, Delgado should be even money to be an average offensive firstbaseman.

If the Mets do sign Delgado for 2010, either straight up for via arbitration, there's always the option of platooning him with Nick Evans, e.g. Platoon arrangements are often posited (especially here) and rarely implemented for a variety of reasons. Primarily, players who have become accustomed to playing every day are rarely receptive to the idea of losing half (or a third, or two-thirds) of their playing time and most managers are reluctant to tell Proven Veterans™ to take a seat against like-handed pitchers. There's a little more juice to a Delgado platoon, though, as the 38-year-old could doubtless use some mandatory time off to rest his aching body parts.

All of this may be pointless conjecture. We saw the Mets let Pedro Martinez walk away at the end of last season because of recurring injury concerns and there's every reason to believe they'll take the same approach with respect to Delgado's impending free agency. Delgado is even older than Martinez and has had a less accomplished tenure with the Mets, so don't look for them to fall over themselves to bring him back.

If Delgado does leave town this offseason he will do so as one of the most productive firstbaseman in franchise history.

Num Player WAR
1 Keith Hernandez 27
2 John Olerud 18.2
3 Dave Magadan 15.9
4 Lee Mazzilli 13
5 John Milner 9.7
6 Carlos Delgado 7.9
7 Ed Kranepool 5.7
8 Rico Brogna 3.3
9 Eddie Murray 3.1
10 Donn Clendenon 3.1

Players must have at least 50 games at firstbase with the Mets to qualify. WAR figures are career totals with the Mets at all positions. Obviously, some of these guys played positions other than firstbase, some quite a bit. Lists like these always serve as a reminder of how good John Olerud was. In about the same number of plate appearances Olerud was more than twice as good as Delgado.

If we cast out Lee Mazzilli and John Milner for being outfielders as much as firstbasemen Delgado slides up fourth on the list. Adjusted for playing time Delgado lands at fourth overall, too:

Num Player WAR/650PA
1 John Olerud 5.86
2 Keith Hernandez 4.76
3 Dave Magadan 4.16
4 Carlos Delgado 2.54
5 Lee Mazzilli 2.42
6 Rico Brogna 2.41
7 John Milner 2.29
8 Donn Clendenon 2.11
9 Eddie Murray 1.57
10 Tim Harkness 1.19

The second column just represents WAR per 650 plate appearances, which is a quick-and-dirty way to get a full seasonal average for each player. If Dave Magadan wasn't already on your list of favorite Mets feel free to add him now. He was very much a poor man's Olerud, drawing lots of walks (though hitting for far less power) and basically going unnoticed by most. Magadan is a story for another day, however. If you're curious, Delgado also has the tenth best single season by WAR among Mets firstbasemen.

Whatever comes of Delgado beyond 2009, he was one of the handful of best firstbasemen the Mets have ever had. He was paid handsomely and was oft-injured; he was probably even injured when we thought he wasn't. I liked him has a person and as a player, I just wish he appeared as the latter a bit more often over the past four seasons.