By Dave Mills
The Winter Meetings have ended and the non-tender deadline has come and gone.
To say the least, the plot has thickened for Team Omar/Jeff. Yet, for some reason, I am still not worked up about the top-three free agents (Bay/Holliday/Lackey) or the specter of paying too dearly in prospects and salary for Doc Halladay.
Dealing too many quality prospects and creating higher payroll is not really what the Mets need. And if they listen to too many of voices calling for impact free agent signings and trades, we may sell off the future for an even more uncertain present.
What the Mets do need to do right now is to acknowledge 2010 as a transitional season where they could just as easily make the post-season, or miss it in an effort to evaluate and nurture talent and make better decisions for 2011. This time next year, the free agent market will feature far more quality players than we are seeing right now.
The Mets extended roster can be broken down into three categories:
Young players who have performed admirably or better at the MLB level in the past and need to move forward to a new dimension of their game (MLB total games by everyday players followed by pitchers):
Experienced veterans over 30 who may have a career year or two left in them:
Alex Cora (clearly, this is for leadership)
Henry Blanco (if he's here to work with Santana and nurture Santos and Thole, that's good enough)
Chris Coste (if he's here to nurture Thole and provide leadership at Buffalo, that's good enough)
Nelson Figueroa (rubber arm and good role player)
Elmer Dessens (injury insurance)
Prospects with a touch of MLB experience who we need to get a look at:
For the first time in many years, it appears the Mets have far more potential and sheer numbers in the first and last group than the middle group, which may be a very good thing.
Does this constitute a complete roster that can go to the post-season? Probably not, but it is not that far-fetched to think it could happen in 2010 by acquiring some selective role players. Of course, staying healthy and having a reasonably productive season is the key.
Lets examine some of the options that are being promoted for the Mets:
Does anyone think this may be the next George Foster? Defensively, Bay (.988) is just slightly better than George (.984). Foster had a bit more power. George had his best years from age 26-31, but had his exceptional years from age 27-29. Bay has been very good from age 25-30, but not nearly as good as Foster's three consecutive exceptional seasons when he hit .302/121 HRs/390 RBI. Bay has not had three consecutive seasons even remotely close to George, but his three best seasons at ages 26, 27 & 29 featured .293 BA/98 HRs/311 RBI. The glaring difference between the two right-handed hitting outfielders is Bay's incredibly high number of strikeouts--838 since he became an everyday player at age 25, with no season where he struck out less than 129 times. Last season he whiffed 162 times. Ouch! During the six seasons he was the same age, Foster struck out 564 times. To Bay's credit, he has a higher SLG and OBP, since he walks twice as much as George did.
No doubt, if the Mets sign Bay, he will begin a serious decline after a year or two of meeting expectations. Therefore, the worst thing Omar/Jeff can do is ink a five-year deal. In my opinion, even four years is two too many.
How about a platoon of Chris Carter (L) and Jonny Gomes (R)? All the reports on Carter indicate he is more than ready to hit major league pitching and with these two in a strict platoon, there is every reason to expect .270/30 HRs/90 RBI without spending $64-$80 million. Gomes lifetime stats against southpaws: 515 ABs/.274 BA/30 HRs/80 RBI/.369 OBP/.517 SLG/.885 OPS. He even shows a little speed. These two would likely match up to Foster defensively.
Best thing about this platoon is we get to see what Carter can do and it buys one full year of seasoning for Fernando Martinez at AAA. And if Carter crashes, F-Mart and Ike Davis (who can also play OF) are in the wings. Of course, Angel Pagan as the super-sub in the OF delivers some pretty nice depth.
PLATOON PARTNER FOR MURPHY
Right now there are two very nice (albeit a bit more expensive than Tatis) choices for the right-handed compliment to Daniel Murphy. They are Garrett Atkins and Passaic boy Mark DeRosa. Atkins has age on his side, but DeRosa's experience and versatility make him very desirable. On age and insurance against long-term injuries to Murphy or Wright, I give Atkins a slight edge, but either of these interesting role players could be a great fit on the Mets. Ryan Garko is another possibility. The price will be more than Omar/Jeff want to spend, but they can have one of these guys, Gomes and a bunch of arms for less than Bay will cost. Certainly something to mull over.
TOOLS OF IGNORANCE
By cornering the market on backup receivers, maybe we can actually let Josh Thole toil at Buffalo without thinking he is blocked for a couple of years. Lets face it -- Omar/Jeff got Blanco specifically to be the personal receiver for Santana and perhaps do 40% of the catching. That leaves Santos behind the dish about 60% of the time. Lets see what he can do. If he makes the grade, we have a nice platoon for the next few seasons. If not, there's Coste, or even Thole, for the second half (if he is tearing up AAA pitching, which he may well do). Is a fat, out-of-shape, slow-footed, 35/36 year-old backstop who never takes a base on balls worth $12 million and a two-year commitment? No way Bengie.
How about not going after John Lackey? Too much money and too much risk. Randy Wolf would have been a good choice last year for about $3 million per-annum less than Oliver Perez, but that was last year. Right now, why not take a chance on one or two of the three arms coming off injuries. I speak of Ben Sheets, Chien-Ming Wang and Scott Olsen. If you sign two of these three to incentive laden deals, there's far more upside than signing Lackey, especially since the Mets have some potentially live arms in Maine (he should become the setup man), Pelfrey, Nieve (another possible setup man) and Niese to sandwich between Santana and Perez. It can go wrong, but so can the near $50 million that might be thrown in Lackey's direction fro too many years.
Jason Marquis might be a nice fit for the 5th starter role, especially since he can be counted on for 200 innings, is a terrific hitting pitcher and is likely to extend a hometown discount to play with the team he rooted for growing up on Staten Island.
How's this for a rotation?
L - Santana
R - Sheets or Wang
R - Pelfrey
L - Perez
R - Marquis
Not bad for a starting staff at Buffalo --
R - Wang or Sheets
R - Nieve
L - Niese
R - Stoner
L - Misch
We said it once, twice and now three times... move Maine to the pen to setup K-Rod and sign either Chad Bradford and/or Darren Oliver, who are both a good fit. Signings like that would also give tremendous depth to the overall staff and protect against significant injuries.
One of the interesting non-tenders that came up at the last moment is Matt Capps, formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who converted 27 of 32 save opportunities this past season. Can he be a hidden gem to setup for K-Rod?
Here's a taste of what can be:
R - K-Rod
R - Maine or Nive or Capps
L - Perpetual Pedro
R - Green or Bradford
R - Stokes or Parnell (could be the closer at Buffalo)
L - Misch or Oliver
R - Figueroa
DEPTH & BALANCE
Picking up a Garrett Atkins, Jonny Gomes, Jason Marquis, Chad Bradford, Darren Oliver and/or Sheets/Wang/Olsen, will cost no more than picking up Bay or Lackey, but with a lot more upside and far less risk. It could also put the Mets in a nice position of depth to make mid-season deadline deals whether they are buyers or sellers. They would also be much more insulated against injury and far more balanced than the rosters of the previous three campaigns.
Haven't we learned that more depth at AAA is absolutely necessary?
Taking stock in this manner demands a resolve to not overspend in order to placate the base and the media. Frankly, this sort of an approach can only be undertaken by the Wilpons reigning in a possible overreaction by Minaya to save his own job. Lets spend money in a more sensible manner and create substantive roster depth. If Carter/Gomes doesn't work and Pagan and F-Mart seem like a bust, there will plenty of capital to spend on LF for 2011.