By Dave Mills
In my previous post, we discussed some creative tweaking of the Mets roster.
Let's try to put away all the diatribe aimed at the Wilpons, Minaya and Manuel and analyze just some of the various items that must be considered when creating a balanced major league roster. This includes a thorough understanding the farm system, available talent via trades and free agency (including compensation picks), and keeping within some budget constraints. All of us who run or manage businesses (except Brian Cashman of the Highlanders) must keep budgets in perspective to varying degrees.
Last week, I used a few premises that need to be listed more straightforwardly to be appreciated. There is really no particular order to this, so I'll just fire away...
Assuming good health, four everyday positions in 2010 are spoken for: Reyes at SS, Wright at 3B, Beltran in CF and Francoeur in RF. To all the naysayers, none of the quartet is likely to be moved between now and July 31 of next year. This leaves some question marks at 1B, 2B, C and LF.
With Ike Davis in waiting at Buffalo and Daniel Murphy having shown quite a bit of promise at the first sack in 2009, it would be absurd to do anything other than sign a right-handed bat to platoon with Murphy. And frankly, Nick Evans might be a very good option to be the platoon partner. If one or both do reasonably well, the Mets have more tradeable pieces at the deadline or after 2010. Does anyone think it is far-fetched for those two to hit a respectable combined .270 with 20 HR and 80 RBI? Shawn Bowman, the 6'4" right-handed hitting third sacker could be a sleeper from the Mets system for a platoon role.
The calls for Luis Castillo's head are becoming deafening. There are some good reasons why, and some bad reasons as well. Good or bad, whomever mans the second sack is not going to make or break the Mets in 2010. The best available free agent options are Felipe Lopez and Orlando Hudson. The best player who may be available via trade could be Brandon Phillips. All three could be an improvement over Castillo, but moving Castillo will likely mean taking on another, and more expensive problem contract. Luis is an average fielder at this point in his career with limited range and poor arm, but he is fairly sure-handed. The three alternatives are all very good to excellent and the Mets do need to shore up their defense. But Castillo is an on-base machine, sprays balls to all field and rarely strikes out, which makes him the ideal batter behind a healthy Jose Reyes. That being said, he may not be an ideal second place hitter to other leadoff hitters. If Omar and Jeff (now a tandem act) can move Castillo and end up with a Kevin Millwood-type, perhaps it would be positive. However, moving Luis for a Milton Bradley, or another player with a huge contract, would be a disaster. The options down in the farms are limited at this point with Ruben Tejada at least a year away and a couple of others at least 2-3 years from Citi Field. Finding the best backup middle infielder(s) may be even more important to the overall team-improvement equation.
LEFT F IELD
LF certainly becomes the main target for Omar/Jeff. Power, speed and a good glove must be in the mix. However, if I were the GM, I'd be looking to create a scenario where the Mets would not get locked into any more than two years. Additionally, I would exploit Angel Pagan's 4th outfielder status so as to yield him 350-400 ABs. There are several reasons for such thinking. The Mets do have four legitimate prospects for the LF job, all of whom will be ready for The Show during the next two seasons. They are Fernando Martinez (only 21 and likely in need of a full season at AAA), Chris Carter (could be ready as a hitter now, but not much of a glove), Ike Davis (if Murphy excels at 1B, then Ike is in LF) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (could well be Beltran's replacement in 2012). All of these prospects are left-handed swingers with some pop, which means they could be full-time outfielders; platooners with Francoeur, Evans or a prospect like Caleb Stewart; or trade bait for some first-rate arms or prospects. While the ideal candidates for LF at Citi are Andre Ethier, or Nick Markakis, they would be expensive and hard to snare from the Dodgers or Orioles. But Curtis Granderson might have all the tools (greater speed and better defense) and be far easier and cheaper to obtain for a two-year hitch. An outfield of Granderson/Beltran/Francoeur would also allow Pagan to start in LF against tough southpaws and in RF against tough righties. A smart manager would also begin to rest Beltran on virtually all day games following night contests. In such a scenario Pagan would start at least three games weekly. The Mets would also see excellent defense and speed across the board, and something in the neighborhood of 80 HR from their outfield mix.
At catcher, the Mets have more limited options. Omir Santos should either be given the role of right-handed platoon partner or very active backup receiver. No doubt, Josh Thole can hit right now and be an effective two-hole hitter (kind of a left-handed Paul LoDuca). However, his catching skills need some more seasoning and Buffalo is likely where he'll apply himself. So, the answer may be a one-year deal for the most desirable left-handed or switch-hitting free agent catcher. Rather than the aging, more expensive options like Bengie Molina (35), Rod Barajas (34) or Ivan Rodriguez (38), the cheapest decent solution may be the switch-hitting, good fielding Josh Bard (32). For right-hand hitting options, clearly Miguel Olivo (31) presents power and grit (and a fight with Jose Reyes in his past). Olivo may well be the best choice.
In an era where (as few as) four position players can constitute a bench, the choices for those few spots become all the more important. Assuming Pagan as the super sub in the OF, two catchers sharing the duties and a right-handed platoon partner for Murphy at 1B, that would leave only two available slots for a strong middle-infielder and a super versatile utility player. If the Mets utilize Evans or Fernando Tatis as the right-handed compliment at 1B and corner INF and OF roles, they can really afford two middle infielder types. From within their current roster only the switch-hitting Anderson Hernandez (marginally acceptable) is in the mix. Left-handed hitting options are Adam Kennedy (perhaps not ready for a bench role), Alex Cora and Craig Counsell (had a terrific 2009 season). Right-handed choices are Juan Uribe and Jamey Carroll. But how about switch-hitting senior citizen Omar Vizquel? He can still play "D" and spray some hits around. Perhaps he would help make Reyes into the player we all think he should be?
This is where the Mets have lots of very good options and some talented arms. The one move that should be made is to move John Maine into the setup role and let him pitch lights out for an inning every other day or so. Closer is set with K-Rod. Former Mets Octavio Dotel and Darren Oliver are Type-A FAs, so no reason to give up a high draft choice. Chad Bradford could be a nice pickup and compliment to Perpetual Pedro Feliciano, especially if Omar/Jeff can move Sean Green. Kiko Calero has been mentioned and could help. Nothing wrong with resigning Elmer Dessens, who did quite an effective job in late 2009. The live arms of Brian Stokes, Bobby Parnell and Francisco Nieve could come up big if they are used wisely. Pat Misch can swing between lefty specialist and long man. Believe it or not, Nelson Figueroa would not hurt any bullpen.
This is where Omar/Jeff have to make their biggest decisions. Two are pretty much made for them. Johan Santana will be the ace and Oliver Perez will be the 5th man simply because they have to give him a chance to rehabilitate himself. This leaves three wide open slots. They could be filled with last year's bunch -- Pelfrey, Maine and Redding -- or with on-roster deposits from the likes of Jon Niese (my choice for the middle lefty), Pat Misch (showed some promise and another southpaw arm, Francisco Nieve (sure has some stuff) and the irrepressible Nelson Figueroa. The farm system may have some available arms in Lance Broadway and Tobi Stoner. So, could the Mets make a strong play for Roy Halladay? Absolutely. Should they deal Pelfrey, F-Mart, Parnell and some more quality prospects like Chris Carter or Brad Holt for Doc? No doubt about it, but only if they can sign him to a contract extension, retain Ike Davis and Jon Niese, and they do not have to take Vernon Wells and his obscene deal. Frankly, with Santana and Halladay, the Mets have plenty of arms to fill up those other three slots more than adequately.
The fun and games of the Hot Stove Season really begins this week.
And what it really boils down to, is do the Mets have the trading horses to get Halladay and a Granderson-type without completely bankrupting their farm system? Getting Halladay might negate the need to make any other deals and inexpensive free agents could fill in the other holes.
For anyone to think the Mets have to make too many trades, sign too many free agents or bet the farm, is just plain wrong. The tweak's the thing. Clearly, we need a powerful starting arm to pitch behind Santana and we need to shore up LF and the bench. Having Niese, Thole, Davis, Nieuwenhuis, Tejada and Wilmer Flores still in the system would warm the senses.
The real issue that will make or break the Mets in 2010 is whether Reyes, Beltran, Santana, Maine and Perez can all recover from injury and have a quality season. David Wright finding his power stroke will also be a blessing. Let us pray!