The dust has finally settled from this debacle of a season in Queens, NY, and needless to say, the Mets have plenty of work to do.
Sure the team was decimated by injuries, but even when healthy, this team has plenty of holes to fill if it plans on being a championship contender in 2010.
The Mets went out after the 2008 season and addressed their biggest need, the bullpen. The moves worked, as the bullpen may have been the teams only strength in 2009. Now the Mets need help in just about every other aspect of the game, be it offense, starting pitching behind ace Johan Santana, or bench players who play fundamentally sound baseball, and the Flushing faithful is impatiently waiting to see how management fills these holes.
Despite many outside observers who believe the Mets will be cutting back financially, team president Jeff Wilpon has stated that the Mets will not be cutting payroll, and he expects the team will have one of the highest payroll in the league in 2010 (The Mets had the third highest payroll in baseball, and the highest in the National League at approximately $146 million).
That's great news for Mets fans, as the team will have about $40 million (including Billy Wagner's salary) coming off the books after 2009. That means the Mets should be able to find solutions at first base, catcher, left field, and starting pitcher, without significantly increasing payroll. They may even be able to stay under the 2010 luxury tax threshold of $162 million, something the Wilpons have notoriously been unwilling to pay.
Spending money, however, doesn't guarantee success (proven by the Mets the past few seasons). Sure money helps, but it needs to be spent wisely, otherwise it's going to be another long season at Citi Field.
So here are some options for the Mets major holes of starting pitcher, first base, left field, and catcher. Each position will have pros and cons for four different options, the cream of the free agent crop, a quality player who may be a bargain, a possible addition via trade, and a player the Mets should avoid signing.
Cream of the Crop: John Lackey, Angels
PROS: Lackey is the ace of a very well-rounded Angels rotation. He'd make a very solid number two behind Johan Santana, he has plenty of playoff race experience, and has even won a World Series. In eight big league seasons, Lackey has only has a losing record once (10-16 in 2003).
CONS: After pitching at least 190 innings for five straight seasons, Lackey hasn't done it since 2007, and has missed time due to injury the past two seasons. He the best free agent pitcher available, and will probably cost a lot to bring to New York. He'll also be 32 in 2010, so a long term deal will probably have him around past his prime.
Bargain Hunting: Jason Marquis, Rockies
PROS: Marquis is coming off of a very good 2009, in which he won 15 games, pitched a career high 216 innings, and was the Rockies best pitcher for much of the season. He also is a local product who has confided in Jeff Francouer that he would love to play for the Mets. He may give a hometown discount.
CONS: Marquis is nowhere near the caliber pitcher Lackey is, and while he has been an innings eater for much of his career, he's also been inconsistent and his career ERA of 4.48 is a bit high for a guy who has only pitched in the NL. Marquis also pitched terribly down the stretch during the Rockies playoff push, going 1-4 with a 6.05 ERA in September. The Mets definitely don't need that.
Possible Trade: Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks
PROS: He's a former Cy Young winner, and one of the best in the business. He has a one year, team option for 2010 at a reasonable $8 million. Arizona will almost definitely pick it up, but the team is cash strapped, and may try to trade him before he leaves town for big money.
CONS: Webb missed almost all of 2009 due to injury (he pitched only four innings all year). Even if he is healthy, the Mets farm system is not very good, and Arizona is only going to want low-cost young talent for Webb. The Mets probably don't have the pieces to trade, so landing Webb in a trade is a long shot.
Avoid: Rich Harden, Cubs
Rich Harden has all the stuff in the world, and he's not even 30 yet. That means that some team is probably going to risk significant money on him. Hopefully it's not the Mets.
As much potential as Harden has, he actually has more seasons in which he's pitched fewer than 10 starts (two, 2006-07), than he has seasons of 30 starts (1, 2004), and he has never pitched more than 189.2 innings in a season. Harden is a constant injury risk, and the last thing the Mets need to add to this team are injury prone players. Even at minimal money, the Mets should stay away.
Cream of the Crop: Nick Johnson, Marlins
PROS: Nick Johnson is a professional hitter, a gap-to-gap doubles hitter who's swing would be a solid fit for Citi Field's spacious confines. Johnson has a great eye, gets on base (career .402 OBP), and he's also an excellent defensive player, something the Mets have lacked at first base since John Olerud. Adding his glove will make the entire infiled's defense better. Plus, while he's the best free agent first baseman available, he can probably be had at a relatively reasonable price.
CONS: Johnson hits for very little power, so 15 home runs from him may be the best the Mets will get. Plus, Johnson has had a history of injuries. During his eight seasons, Johnson has only played more than 140 games once, and has only played in 100-plus games four times. Not good.
Bargain Hunting: Adam LaRoche, Braves
PROS: LaRoche does everything well. He hits for a solid average, hits with a bit of pop, drives in his share of runs, and plays very good defense. He's a quality major league ballplayer, who is good for a .270-.280 batting average, 20-25 home runs, and 75-80 RBI. LaRoche made $5 million in 2009, so he most likely can be had relatively inexpensively.
CONS: He's not a sexy name, by any means. He's a left-handed batter, so those 25 home runs may end up being more like 15 in Citi Field. Picture Daniel Murphy who hits a little better against lefties, and plays much better defense.
Possible Trade: Adam Dunn, Nationals
PROS: Adam Dunn is an absolutely powerhouse, who can hit the ball out of any ballpark, even Citi Field. He gets on base, proven by his 116 walks last year, while hitting 38 home runs and driving in 105 runs on a terrible Nationals team. He can play either left field or first base. Dunn has one year remaining on his contract at $10 million, so the Nats may want to trade him rather than risk losing him after 2010 for nothing.
CONS: Yes, Dunn can play the outfield and first base, however, he doesn't play either position all that well (probably better than Daniel Murphy though). Dunn does have plenty of power, something the Mets need, but he strikes out a ton, something the Mets do not. And while $10 million is not a ton of money for a player that puts up numbers like Dunn does, the Mets would probably take a chance on resigning Carlos Delgado, figuring they could get a similar player at less money.
Avoid: Hank Blalock, Rangers
Hank Blalock looked like one of the most promising players in baseball a few years back, but that has not been the case the past few seasons.
Blalock has battled injury after injury, and his numbers have been on the decline since his career year in 2004. Yes, he did hit 25 home runs in 2009, but he also only drove in 66 runs and hit .234. Blalock also only played 66 games at first base in 2009, spending much of his time as a DH. He's not a national league player, and he's not the player he used to be.
Cream of the Crop: Matt Holliday, Cardinals
PROS: What's not to like about Holliday? He's one of the premier hitters in baseball, a virtual lock to hit .300, 25, 100 every season. His 162 game averages of .318, 29 home runs, 112 RBI, 43 doubles, and .933 OPS would be welcome additions to a lineup that struggled offensively in 2009. Despite his major gaffe in the outfield this postseason, Holliday is a solid player defensively as well.
CONS: Matt Holliday is the prize of this free agent class, couple that with the fact that Scott Boras is his agent, and it's no secret that any team that wants Holliday is going to have to pay big time. The Mets have plenty of holes to fill, and may not want to spend an astronomical amount on one player.
Also, Holliday was a disappointment in 2009 until he was sent to the Cardinals. He probably benefited from being in the same lineup with Albert Pujols, and the Mets lineup definitely has no Albert Pujols in it.
Bargain Hunter: Xavier Nady, Yankees
PROS: Xavier Nady can play either corner outfield spot, and is a quality offensive player with pop. He's coming off of an injury that ended his season after just seven games, and since the Yankees have Nick Swisher in right field, he may be available for a reasonable price. Plus, during the his brief stint in Queens, Nady became a fan favorite, and the Mets already know what to expect from him.
CONS: Nady is average defensively, and while his season ending injury in 2009 may help bring his price down, the Mets do not need a player who's an injury risk.
Possible Trade: Carl Crawford, Rays
PROS: Carl Crawford is one of the best all around players in baseball. He can hit, run, steal bases, and is a solid defensive player. His style of play will fit perfectly with what the Mets want to do in Citi Field.
CONS: Crawford has a $10 million team option for 2010. The Rays, who want to keep him around so badly they traded Scott Kazmir to the Angels to free up salary, will definitely pick the option up, and then try to sign him to an extension. If keeping Crawford proves too rich for the frugal Rays, they'll probably try to trade him. Any deal for Crawford is going to cost a lot of young, inexpensive talent, something the Mets have very little of, and any trade is also going to have to include a contract extension worth plenty of cash.
Avoid: Johnny Damon, Yankees
There's very little chance that Johnny Damon is going to return to the Yankees in 2010, and while the Mets would love to steal any thunder from the Yankees they can, Damon would not be a good signing for the Mets.
He can still hit, but Damon will be 36 this upcoming season, so his best days are probably behind him. Damon also has been a defensive liability in recent years, and his arm is so bad, he barely can reach the cut-off man. Citi Field's spacious outfield is no place for Damon, he's probably more suited for a DH role on an American League team.
Cream of the Crop: Bengie Molina, Giants
PROS: Bengie Molina is a very good all around catcher. He's great with a pitching staff, he's a quality defensive backstop, and while he's no Mike Piazza, Molina can hit, driving in at least 80 RBI in each of the past three seasons. Molina made $6.5 million in 2009, not a huge price tag, so he can probably be had at a relatively reasonable price.
CONS: Molina will be 34 in 2010, so a long term deal is almost certainly out of the question. While Molina is still a plus defender, he showed some decline in 2009, throwing out fewer than 30 percent of base stealers for the first time in his career.
Bargain Hunter: Miguel Olivo, Royals
PROS: Think of him as Bengie Molina light. He's a good defensive player, and a solid hitter for a catcher (he hit 23 home runs in 2009), and he can probably be had for half the price it would cost to sign Molina.
CONS: Olivo is more than likely not going to hit 23 home runs in Citi Field, and the Mets could probably get similar offensive output from current catcher Omir Santos, at much less money.
Trade Possibility: Ryan Doumit, Pirates
PROS: Doumit is only 28, solid defensively, and despite a down season in 2009, he can really hit. He's one of the few players remaining from the Pirates opening day roster in 2009, and if Pittsburgh is still cleaning house, he may be available.
CONS: Like with most trades, especially trades with Pittsburgh, the Mets will have to give up prospects who make next to nothing, something the Mets have little of. Plus, there has been no indication that the Pirates want to trade Doumit, as he still doesn't even cost them a million per season yet.
Avoid: Jason Varitek, Red Sox
Boston will probably not bring back Jason Varitek for 2010, especially since they traded for, and will probably pick up the option of Victor Martinez.
While Varitek is a gamer, and a great clubhouse leader, he will be 38 years old in 2010 and struggled offensively and defensively the past two season. The Mets need help in both areas, so signing Varitek makes little sense.
Besides, if the Mets want to sign a veteran catcher, who is a team leader and has World Series experience, they could sign Ivan Rodriguez. He's not the hitter he once was, but he's still a very good defensive catcher.
It remains to be seen what the Mets will do to improve their team for 2010. While they do have money to spend, the Mets have plenty of hole to fill. It may be a tall task to turn this team back into a contender in only one season, but there are plenty of quality options out there.