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Restraint Runs Rampant (and why not?)

Dave MillsSunday, January 4, 2009
By Dave Mills

The Mets have reinvented the bullpen and have made a reasonable overture to Derek Lowe, while basically standing pat on their everyday players.

In light of the painfully slow to develop free agent market, it seems to this observer that Scott Boras somewhat dictates how things evolve for a number of teams, or perhaps all. It also appears that he sets the tone for almost everything that transpires transactionally. Is this good for baseball? Probably not, but what to do about it?

Minaya and company moved quickly to wrap up two excellent closers for the final two innings of most games. Each was independent of Boras and no matter what the conventional thinking, each was expensive. The Mets are paying K-Rod handsomely and they gave up a lot of talent for Putz for a two-year stay. Some conclusions can be drawn from the Putz deal: The Mets decided that two lefty swinging first base types (Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda) and two righty swingers (Nick Evans and Fernando Tatis) were ahead Mike Carp on the organizational list as first basemen in a situation that will likely be a platoon in 2010. Carp may well turn into a very decent designated hitter. The Mets also felt that Jeremy Reed (and maybe even Angel Pagan) were a better fit as a 4th outfielder if called on to play during an extended injury to Church, Beltran or Murphy. Therefore, they gave up a little defense for some more solid everyday play and Joe Smith for Shaun Green. Of course, the low minor league prospects could end up making the trade look very bad or very good.

The bullpen looks to have some very interesting arms, especially if Duaner Sanchez can return to form. Pitching in the 7th Inning should relieve the pressure. The reports on Green seem to indicate that he should more than make up for the loss of Joe Smith and work in a nice lefty/righty compliment with Pedro Feliciano, who can return to a stricter LOOGY status. While a southpaw like Darren Oliver would have been my choice as a swingman, Brian Stokes should be a nice fit with his live arm and ability to spot start and throw a quick inning. No doubt one more situational lefty is needed. Best choices would be Dennys Reyes followed by Joe Beimel. Brian Shouse, Eddie Guardado, Ricardo Rincon and Royce Ring are also in the low-priced mix, especially if the starting staff has at least two southpaws.

To understand the thinking behind the moves or non-moves, a reasonable analysis of the Mets farmhands is necessary.

No doubt, there were few, if any, bullpen options that could be penciled in for 2009 or 2010, with Eddie Kunz (a righty, which the Mets do not need right now) perhaps the only exception. Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell are legitimate prospects to start even as early as this season, but a full year at AAA is clearly preferred by the Mets brain-trust. Assuming Daniel Murphy is here to stay, the Mets have two everyday players in that Niese/Parnell category in Fernando Martinez and Nick Evans.

Seems pretty clear that Omar intends to field a 2010 lineup that features a platoon of Murphy and Evans or Tatis at 1B. This opens up LF for Martinez, perhaps platooning with Tatis for a season or two. Assuming Church is productive a injury-free in 2009, there are really only two positions that can be addressed and where the minor league talent is at least three years away -- catcher and 2B.

The platoon of Schneider and Castro is much better than average defensively and better than average offensively. And in this era of 13 games every two weeks, there is nothing wrong with a left/right platoon behind the dish. The Mets will see what develops in 2009 before changing the equation. Josh Thole is their best prospect, but he is unlikely to be in the picture before September 2010. There is really limited talent in the free agent pool and Robinson Cancel showed that he can fill-in adequately for a guy who thinks he has speed, but doesn't.

The 2B issue is far more profound than meets the eye. No need to beat a dead horse, but as previously mentioned here, there is little doubt that Luis Castillo was signed to make the Mets more attractive to Johan Santana, who is very close to Castillo. If that strategy was in play and helped to push the envelope, the Mets actually made an OK decision ( I said OK, not good). The problem for the Mets is that a fine second baseman and hitter, who is also a terrific clubhouse guy is out there as a free agent. Orlando Hudson dearly wants to play for the Mets. And while the Mets are deep in 2B prospects (Wilmer Flores/Greg Veloz/Emmanuel Garcia), which is why they cut Argenis Reyes loose, none would even remotely make an appearance before September 2010. If Minaya cannot move Castillo before the season starts and he fails in the first few months, he will certainly be gone by the end of July in favor of some kind of quick fix.

While a situational lefty and versatile backup middle infielder (Aaron Miles or Alex Cora) have to be found, the other area of major concern is starting pitching.

John Maine is coming off of non-structural surgery, so it should not be a big issue for a guy who is 28 years of age. Santana and Pelfrey look to be extremely solid and reliable. The offer of $36 million, while being castigated in many circles, was certainly not repulsive at $12 million a season for a guy who has had one great season in 2002 and four consecutive better than decent seasons for the Dodgers. Hey... its a new economy for all who are not the top three to five free agents. What the market will bear is the new mantra. The Mets are in the driver's seat to a certain degree and the Wilpons did lose a fortune to Bernie Madoff.

My guess is the Mets will sign either Lowe (for good reason their first choice) or the southpaws -- Oliver Perez or Randy Wolf. If it is Perez or Wolf, the 5th spot will likely go to Pedro Martinez at about half the price they'd have to dole out to Wolf or Jon Garland. That appears to be the field and how it is entering the backstretch. Pedro as a 5th starter is a very nice option for a number of reasons -- he needs a bit more rest than the others; he delivers a second pitching coach and he has guile and the desire to go out a winner. Should the Mets ink Lowe and Pedro, the need for a better situational lefty in the bullpen rises.

When viewing the overall picture, there is nothing out-of-line or untoward in the way the Mets are proceeding to improve the 40-man roster and hold on to their best prospects, which they most certainly have done. Lets let it all play out before the critics take the floor. The next five weeks will be interesting.

Happy New Year and may the baseball gods be with (or on) the Mets in 2009 and beyond!

About Dave: Dave Mills, born in Kew Gardens, Queens, the day after Willie Mays' circus catch in the 1954 World Series, is a devout Met fan since 1962. The first game he attended was Mets v. Reds at the Polo Grounds on September 14, 1962. With the game tied 9-9 in the 9th, Choo Choo ("Bub") Coleman hit a game-winning walkoff HR down the rightfield line on to the tin roof. The sound is indelibly etched in his memory! Dave lives on Oahu, where he markets and writes about golf. His company, HawaiiGolfDeals.com is the leading deliverer of golfers to the Aloha State. His take on Golf in Australia is in the Oct/Nov issue of Fairways & Greens Magazine.

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