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Mets Hot Stove: Decisions, Decisions...

Mike SteffanosTuesday, December 20, 2005
By Mike Steffanos

Some interesting items kicking around this morning, as the Mets are still in the running for Octavio Dotel, and the non-tender deadline approaches.

Daily News: Still pursuing Dotel
Despite reports yesterday that the Yankees were close to signing free agent reliever Octavio Dotel, John Harper reports the Mets are still trying to sign him. Harper even suggests the possibility that signing Dotel might be preferable to the Mets than giving Julian Tavarez the long-term contract he's looking for.

Also in the Daily News: Willie is looking forward to next year
Christian Red reports that Mets manager Willie Randolph is exited about the prospects of going to the season with all of the Mets' new additions. Yet there is something else Willie would like to see:

You know what I'd love more than anything? For someone in our organization to step up and take a job next spring, whether that's in the middle relief or as a backup or whatever. When you build within, you get the incentive for all the other young players to aspire and do well.

It's always good to trade or go for a free agent. But I prefer to build within and let these kids see that if you work hard in this system, then you're going to be rewarded for it. I'm hoping someone will step up.

He's right, of course; when players can make it from the organization is does give added incentive to others in the system, and conversely, when a system doesn't promote players to the majors, it creates the feeling that the only way to make it is to get traded to a more hospitable environment. Success tends to breed success in player development; of course, it doesn't hurt if you draft correctly in the first place.

New York Post: Mets will tender Zambrano
Michael Morrissey informs us that the Mets plan to tender a contract to pitcher Victor Zambrano by today's deadline. Other arbitration-eligible players on the Mets are Eric Valent, Chris Woodward and Tike Redman. Morrissey states that, as favorites of manager Willie Randolph, both Woodward and the newly acquired Redman are likely to return.

If the Mets fail to tender an offer to an eligible player by today's deadline, they become free agents and can negotiate with any team, including the Mets. For more on this process, please see this article on MLB.com.

The Hardball Times: For whom Heath Bell toils
David Appelman has an interesting look at why Heath Bell had a rough year in 2005, and why he thinks that Bell will improve in 2006.

Appelman points out that Bell had a very good strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate of 8.87, gave up a low number of HRs against, and a walk rate below the league average. So what went wrong?

Most of his ERA is to blame on an extremely high batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Nearly 38% of the balls he hit into play became hits, which was poor enough to give him the ninth-worst BABIP of any pitcher in baseball.

So what does Appelman see for Bell in 2006?

I'd be somewhat shocked if Heath Bell wasn't back in the majors next year and much improved. As far as his strikeouts, walks and home runs go, he's better than a lot of team's current closers. He might be a bit hittable at times, but there is no way his BABIP will be as high as it was in 2005 again. It's also worth mentioning he's very much a ground ball pitcher which only adds to his appeal. Don't be surprised if he becomes an important piece of the Mets bullpen next season.

I have a good feeling about Bell going into this year, too, and it was nice to read this piece that gave me something solid to hang it on. I guess the only question I had was, why was Bell not used after his September call up? If I had the answer to that one, I would have a better feel for what might happen next year.

Inside Pitch Magazine Online: Interview with Jeff Keppinger
Inside Pitch Magazine Online is a subscription-based site, but Bryan Hoch's interview with New York Mets second base prospect Jeff Keppinger is free to everyone, and well worth checking out. Keppinger, who is recovering from a leg injury that cost him the second half of the 2005 season, reports that he is 100% recovered, and ready to challenge for the second base job this spring. He's hoping for a better opportunity than the one he received last spring:

I was told at the end of 2004 that, 'Hey, you've done a good job.' Obviously, we have Matsui, and he was in front of me. I knew that, so I asked about the possibility of coming into spring training this year and being a utility guy. They said they weren't going to hand me the job, but I was going to get a shot. Well, I came into spring training and got 11 or 12 at-bats. It didn't really seem like they were giving me too much of a chance.

Keppinger was candid with Hoch in assessing his own capabilities as a second baseman:

I grant, I'm not one of those little speedy guys who can run all around the field and who can make stupid plays, but at the same time, those guys who do that will probably make 10 or 15 more errors a year than I will. It all depends on what you're looking for. If you want someone who's going to be your Steady Eddie when you get a ground ball, and who's going to turn that double play, make the play, not cost you a run - man on third, ninth inning, up by a run. It all depends what you're looking for.

Keppinger did a nice job with the Mets at the end of the 2004 season, and deserves a shot at least at a utility role. It would be really nice to have someone a little younger and hungrier on the roster. This goes to what Willie Randolph was saying in the Daily News article, giving the guys in the organization hope that there are big league jobs to be won.

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