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Analysis: The Mets Hot Stove Season So Far

Mike SteffanosWednesday, November 22, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

The 2007 hot stove season has been as eventful in the early going as it was a year earlier -- with the major difference being, of course, the caliber of the players involved in the moves. In 2006, the early action revolved around big names like Mike Cameron, Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner. This year it's been about adding smaller pieces and spare parts. Still, the Mets have accomplished quite a bit in preparing for next season. Here's a recap:

November 14, 2006
Re-signed free agents Jose Valentin and Orlando Hernandez
Claimed RHP Jason Standridge off waivers from Cincinnati.

I was somewhat surprised at Jose Valentin's re-signing. It was conceded by most that the 36-year-old infielder would capitalize on his remarkable comeback season and sign with a team that was willing to guarantee him a starting job. Instead, he returns to the Mets with a $4 million contract for next year and an option for 2008. If this seems rather remarkable for a player who will turn 37 next season and admittedly tired out towards the end of the year, look at it in the light of what others have received in this out-of-control offseason. A perfect example is Gary Matthews, Jr., who is 32 and had a career batting average under .250 coming into 2006. He had a terrific year, but with no guarantee that this wasn't just a career type season, the Angels have handed Matthews a 5-year, $50 million deal. Granted, he's a good glove in centerfield and a good guy, but that's cashing in on one year in a big way.

Valentin actually turned down better offers to return to Shea. Add that to his success last year and I'm happy with this deal. Hopefully they will find a right-handed second baseman to platoon with Valentin who will give the Mets better offense against lefties and give Valentin more days off -- which would keep him fresher late in the season. I don't think $4 million was a huge investment in Jose Valentin.

The contract that Orlando Hernandez signed to return to Shea was a different matter. We first heard 2 years at $6 million total, which I felt was more than reasonable. It turned out to be almost double that. A million dollar signing bonus combined with salaries of $4.5 million in 2007 and $5.5 million in 2008 is quite an investment for a pitcher who is most likely already on the wrong side of 40. Yet El Duque was arguably the Mets best starter over the last 2 months of the season, had terrific peripheral numbers last season, and thrives on the big stage. While it's doubtful that the Mets will see 60 starts from Hernandez over these next 2 years, if he can stay healthy, I feel this deal will turn out just fine.

The Mets have bought themselves a big-game pitcher who will provide the right kind of leadership to the younger pitchers, and they have bought themselves time for some of their most promising pitchers to develop a little more. The $5.5 million for 2008 is admittedly more of a reach, but it's not that large of an investment in current MLB dollars. Pitching is incredibly expensive right now, and if El Duque, who is an amazing physical specimen, can keep pitching decently for 2 years, this might actually look like a steal. What a crazy market.

As for Jason Standridge, he just seems to be one of those guys with a good arm and nothing really to show for it who keeps getting chances with new teams. It didn't cost anything, so why not? I doubt, however, that we'll ever see him pitch for the Mets unless half the bullpen goes down with injuries. Then again, I felt that way about Darren Oliver last winter.

The verdict: I think re-signing Hernandez and Valentin made sense, though I did have to take a deep breath when I learned of the details of El Duque's contract.

November 15, 2006
Traded Heath Bell and Royce Ring to the Padres for OF Ben Johnson and RHP Jon Adkins.

I think most of us thought that Heath Bell would be gone this winter. I liked Bell, but he never developed that consistent slider to keep hitters off his straight fastball. Ring, on the other hand, was a young lefty who I thought possibly had a future with the Mets. But you have to give up something to get something back.

Ben Johnson gives the Mets some outfield depth and some 25-year-old athleticism on a team that's getting older quite quickly. Depending on how you look at it, Johnson will provide Lastings Milledge with time to grow in the minor leagues or ensures that young Lastings will be shipped out this winter. For what it's worth, I'd be surprised if the Mets traded Milledge unless they received something quite attractive in return. He's still a terrific prospect, and the over-inflated markets for both trades and free agents have raised the value of top prospects quite significantly. I just can't see the Mets giving up Milledge for a reliever or mediocre starting pitcher unless they have lost all faith in him.

Anyway, getting back to Johnson, he's a young, cheap and talented player who has shown promise. He has major league experience, and can spell all 3 Mets outfielders and come in for defense late in games. As for Jon Adkins, he looks like a decent, unspectacular arm to compete for a middle relief job. He had a decent year for San Diego last year, though he gives up a lot of hits and has somewhat unimpressive strikeout and walk totals.

The verdict: Obviously with trades involving young players you have to give them some time to shake out. Johnson seems like a decent pickup, while Adkins doesn't do much for me at all. If Bell and Ring become really solid contributors and Johnson doesn't develop into a solid contributor this could be one to regret, but I could also see a scenario where the Mets come out winners. The most likely outcome, in my opinion, is that both teams come out with something useful.

November 17, 2006
Signed free agent IF Damion Easley to a one-year contract.

It looks like this one is likely to ensure that Chris Woodward is an ex-Met. A one year contract to a 37-year-old veteran player for the bench isn't going to get me worked up. Easley is a decent hitter against lefties, and may provide a better platoon at 2B than Woodward, but he has a very poor track record as a pinch hitter. He has decent power, but strikes out too much. His defense will be adequate, though he lacks range.

It's obvious the Mets have left a more long-term solution for second base for another year down the road. Easley is a reasonable signing, nothing more, and is likely to be making only a 1-year stopover in the Big Apple.

The verdict: Eh ... They could have done worse, but especially given Easley's struggles as a pinch-hitter, I can't help but wonder if this is really any upgrade over the younger Chris Woodward. Still, Easley provides experienced infield depth and above-average pop from a middle infielder.

November 20, 2006
Signed free agent OF Moises Alou to a one-year contract.

I wrote about this signing a couple of days ago, and what I said then still holds for me. I worry about outfield defense with Alou and Shawn Green on the corners, but the Mets balanced the lineup with a guy that kills left-handed pitching, and should fit in well on this team. They also bought time for their prospects to develop further.

The verdict: Some have taken exception to my looking at this signing in light of the crazy money being thrown around for players this offseason, but I think that's important. For a relatively small 1-year investment, the Mets have a player who may well be a steal at the price paid. A more than reasonable gamble by Omar Minaya.

November 20, 2006
Traded RHPs Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom to the Florida Marlins for LHPs Jason Vargas and Adam Bostick.

This is a trade that I understand completely, but don't really love. Omar Minaya was looking for starting pitching depth, and obtained a couple of young lefty starters for a pair of bullpen arms who didn't figure into the Mets' plans for 2007. Having said that, from what I read both Vargas and Bostick are starting pitchers with average stuff, control problems, and probably max out as fourth or fifth starters if they do make it.

After a surprisingly effective half-season debut for Florida in 2005, Jason Vargas was expected to be one of the Marlins' starters last season. He struggled at the major league and minor league levels as a starter and a reliever last season. In both Triple-A and in the majors, he had bad numbers in ERA, hits allowed, homers allowed and walks. He seems to have lost confidence and struggled with his mechanics. While there is hope that Peterson and company can help him straighten out, he doesn't have the upside of an Oliver Perez, looking more like a 4 or 5 or even a middle reliever.

Adam Bostick has had good minor league strikeout numbers, but also has struggled with control. He doesn't have the big fastball. He's another guy who looks like a bottom of the rotation starter or a reliever.

Now granted, two relief prospects aren't going to net you a potential ace, but in Owens and Lindstrom the Mets gave up their two best reliever prospects within spitting distance of the majors -- particularly given the earlier trade of Bell and Ring. Henry Owens was a converted catcher who threw in the high 90s with a deceptive motion and good control, while Matt Lindstrom threw triple-digit heat at times that he struggled to control. Both players admittedly had some downside, being a little older than your typical prospect and with Lindstrom getting a late start in pro ball due to Mormon missionary work, and Owens having had some arm problems. Still, they were legit prospects at a position the Mets typically have to look outside of their organization to fill. I would have liked to have seen the Mets groom one or both of these kids for their own bullpen.

The verdict: Once again, we'll judge this trade in 2 or 3 years. After living through Jose Lima and Geremi Gonzalez last year, we all understand the need for starting pitching depth. The 2 players the Mets picked up were younger, they were lefties, and at least for now both are starting pitchers. Owens and Lindstrom are guys whose career could run the gamut from washout to major-league closer. It was an understandable deal, but I don't love it.

November 21, 2006
Declined the club option on Tom Glavine.

I've read some criticism of the Mets on Baseball Prospectus and elsewhere that criticize the Mets for not just picking up this $14 million club option for Glavine. Putting aside the monetary considerations, the Mets and Glavine had a gentleman's agreement that they wouldn't pick up this option when Glavine restructured his contract earlier in the year. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but where I come from, honoring agreements is not something that deserves to be disparaged.

Draft Implications

By signing Alou, the Mets forfeit their first round pick in the amateur draft next June. Some people get confused and think that a team loses 2 picks for signing a Type A free agent. This isn't true. Although the team that loses the player does indeed receive 2 picks, only one comes from the signing team. The other is a sandwich round pick which comes between the first and second rounds. David Wright was a sandwich round pick, compensation for when Mike Hampton signed with Colorado to take advantage of that terrific public school system.

If the Mets sign another Type A free agent (perhaps Barry Zito), they will forfeit their second round pick. Now, it is entirely possible that the Mets could regain picks if someone signs one of their Type A free agents. Unless they are signed by their new team before December 1, though, the Mets would have to offer their free agents arbitration in order to receive draft pick compensation. Last year both Braden Looper and Mike Piazza were Type A free agents, but the Mets didn't offer either arbitration, so they received no picks.

You would only offer arbitration to a player you want to keep, because they just might take you up on it, as Tony Graffanino unexpectedly did to the Sawx last year. I'm not sure with Tom Glavine whether the Mets declining their team option has removed the possibility of getting compensation if he signs with Atlanta, but it seems likely. No way they will offer Cliff Floyd arbitration. Roberto Hernandez and Chad Bradford would seem at least possibilities to be offered arbitration if Omar doesn't re-sign them, especially Bradford. Still, it's quite possible the Mets will not receive any compensatory picks this offseason, either, if they don't offer arbitration.

The future of this blog (yet again)

I promise to get the information up over the holiday weekend of what we'll be doing and what I would need from anyone submitting material. I just got swamped with some other stuff, please bear with me. Oh, and ...

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone

SNY.tv: Getting to know Marty
SportsNet New York's web site features part one of an interesting in-depth interview with the dean of Mets beat writers, Marty Noble.

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Continuous Mets Coverage:
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Comments (3)

Excellent work as always Mike, and first time commenter here. Along the lines of the Alou signing, the most significant thing is definitely the one year aspect. I know everyone is down on Milledge, but the deals that are being given to the likes of Juan Pierre and Gary Mathews Jr. only make young players like him even more valuable than ever. Yes the Mets have Gomez and Martinez, but having three OF's who may be major league ready in two or three years only constitutes a glut in the Mets system. For the rest of Baseball it's not all that unusual. It only seems like one to us because we're not used to it...

Who really wants to bet that Pierre or Mathews will be $50 million better than Milledge over the next five years? Scratch that, who wants to bet that they'll even be better at all? I know the kid wasn't David Wright when he was rushed to the bigs, but any damage done to his value is quickly being repaired by clueless GM's around Baseball...

Mike and to all, Happy Thanksgiving. I pray peace and safety for all of you and thank you for letting me be apart of this little family. Looking forward to the winter meetings. I think we will be smoking with all kind of rumors and stuff flying around. Oh yeah, bring it on, I'll take a second helping please. Stay well every one, remember diets start in Jan.

Bren - That's a good point. I have a feeling the free agent market is going to remain fairly crazy for a couple more years at least.
Rev - Thanks, my friend. My diet starts Friday, though I'll probably backslide on Christmas.

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