Before they became a dysfunctional, injury-ridden 92-loss laughingstock, the New York Mets were actually not a bad team. Sure they had two consecutive meltdowns, one of colossal proportion, yet leaving room for hope until the bitter end, game No. 162.
It seems like ages ago, but the Mets were arguably the best team in baseball three short years ago, and fell a Carlos Beltran gapper short of a World Series berth. Also, remember that that team featured neither ace Johan Santana nor saves king Francisco Rodriguez.
When at full strength, the Mets are contenders. A healthy core of Jose Reyes, David Wright, Beltran, Santana, and Rodriguez alone makes them respectable. However, that being said, therein lies the problem—there isn't much else after their core stars.
Sure, Jeff Francoeur will only be 26 and still has great potential, and yes, the trio of John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Mike Pelfrey can only improve on a disastrous 2008 (one would hope!). But even so, this current product won't put any hardware in Citi Field, let alone make the playoffs.
The biggest need is most likely the starting rotation; pitching, pitching, pitching—you can't ever have enough. However, John Lackey? Sure, he's nice, but he's not Roy Halladay, and the Mets shouldn't throw A.J. Burnett-type money at him.
Unless the Blue Jays gift-wrap Halladay and send him to Flushing like the Twins so kindly did two years ago with Johan Santana, the Mets should start the re-tooling process elsewhere. That elsewhere is left field. That left fielder is Matt Holliday.
Holliday would not only fill the massive void in left field, but add something the Mets need more: a bona fide slugger to the lineup. His power will replace the likely departed Carlos Delgado, his speed is good, plus he's a complete hitter, .318 in his career.
He's a competitor, has been to the playoffs a couple of times, and led the Rockies to a pennant two years ago. He plays the game the way it should be played. And, it's not like the Mets would be putting a slouch out there in the field.
He made one bad play in the NLDS, and it was magnified because of the stage it was on; anyone remember he hit a home run that game? Holliday is an adequate defender, and far better that anyone the Mets employed recently, so let's not even start that argument.
Five years at $100M sounds fair. If Boras wants more cash, or another year for his client, you give it to him. The Mets need to get this guy—he's a star. If the aforementioned reasons weren't enough, here's another one.
The Mets must get the biggest free agent out there just to remind people that there's another team in New York besides the defending World Champion Yankees. People started forgetting about the Amazins' in July. This one move would instantly make them relevant again.
Not that this fixes everything. Matt Holliday doesn't pitch. Because of all the millions used to sign him, the Mets likely won't have the funds to sign a John Lackey, never mind a Roy Halladay. This is where GM Omar Minaya can really roll the dice, and won't have to break the bank. Two guys come to mind: Rich Harden and Ben Sheets.
Not only are both Sheets and Harden good pitchers, they are pitchers with ace potential. Only problem is, neither one can ever seem to stay healthy. Harden would probably come cheaper, since he only amassed nine wins with an ERA over four last year with the Cubs.
Sheets went 13-9 with a 3.03 ERA... in 2008. Sheets didn't throw a single pitch in 2009, and Harden's ERA nearly doubled. No club, except of course maybe the Yankees, is going to offer either of them a long-term contract. The more likely scenario is a one to three-year deal with incentives. Stop me now if you wouldn't make Rich Harden a Met for two years and $15M, with another $4-5M in incentives. Or Sheets for a little more, say two years and $20, with a third year option for $11-12M, similarly with incentives. Hell, I'd consider signing BOTH of them.
Let's say the Mets only grab one of Sheets/Harden at a decent enough price. Room for another starter? Sure. Randy Wolf and Joel Pineiro have been mentioned in the media, and that'd be fine.
They'd probably command more years than the injury prone duo, but less annually. If that doesn't work out, I'm sure the Mets could turn to Jason Marquis, who literally has been begging to be a Met for quite some time now, so much so you think he might be willing to pitch here for free.
It should be noted that of these three, only Wolf is a Type A free agent, which makes Pineiro and Marquis more attractive, especially the latter for monetary reasons. Wolf is the safest play, and if the Mets were willing to surrender to sandwich pick in the draft to the Dodgers, then fine, but then you damn well better not overpay.
If the price is right, the Mets should and will go for him. If some team decides to give Mr. Wolf a deal worth over $50M, then it's time to turn to Pineiro, but if he suddenly thinks that after one good year he deserves No. 2 type money, then you tell him to have a nice day and wish him luck in his journeys. Three years in the $21-24M range is the highest the Mets should offer him. If not, then grant Marquis his wish to come to Queens for two years and $10M.
Before you know it, the Mets have a surplus of starting pitching. Wait, what? Yes: Santana, Sheets/Harden, Maine, Pelfrey, Perez, and let's say Wolf, for arguement's sake. If Wolf signs somewhere for 5 years and $45M, that will likely drive up the price on Pineiro, which in turn will likely leave the Mets turning to Marquis, but for now, let's say the Mets give Wolf 3 years and $30M. Time to pick up the phone to trade a part of the famed Maine-Ollie-Big Pelf trio? If someone bites, sure, why not?
I'd say the most likely to go would be Perez, but of course, it could be hard to find a taker for a $36M basket case. However, some team out there may remember his upside and take him off the Mets' hands.
If the Mets could accomplish this and free up more salary by getting rid of Luis Castillo when his value will never be higher, then pat Minaya on the back. The pair of Perez and Castillo both have two years left on their contracts, and are owed a combined $36M.
The Mets won't find anyone to take on all of these salaries, but could free themselves of roughly half, so that's $18M more to spend. Castillo was not the problem last year, and frankly I feel bad for the guy (Yankee game, anyone?), but if anyone's ever going to want his aging body, it's going to be now. However, if the Mets can't part ways with Castillo, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
Everyone and their mother seems to be on board with the "dump Castillo, sign Orlando Hudson" idea, which I am on board with. The guy plays exceptional defense (four Gold Gloves in past five years), wants to come to New York, and possesses something this team lacks so badly: grit.
While Hudson's fine, the Mets could go in another direction, a guy who can not only play defense, but steal bases, and fill in at the outfield positions when called upon, too: Chone Figgins. Figgins is young enough (32), where if the Mets overpaid to get him on a short-term deal, he may take it, since he'd hit the open market again at 33 or 34.
Give him a one-year pact for $9M with a player option for a second year for the same money. Both options are fine, and like I said, I feel for Luis, but it's time to get some new blood at second. Ultimately, despite the fact that Figgins brings much more versatility, the Mets like Hudson a lot, and he'd come a bit cheaper. The parties will probably settle a two-year deal around $10-12M.
Omir Santos is not a full-time backstop. I'd say the Mets must act quickly to find a guy who's capable of catching 100 games, but really, there's no rush. Bengie Molina is the most attractive option, but apparently he wants a long-term deal, which I'd like to see the Mets steer clear from.
Molina's a nice guy, but he's slow as molasses, 35, and not getting any younger. I'd give the guy a one-year deal for $5-6M, but nothing more, and he'll most likely find more money and a more lengthy contract elsewhere. The Mets should save money here, and go with a cheap option, maybe a guy with a little pop.
Ramon Castro reunion, anyone? Plus, the Mets are grooming prospect Josh Thole to take over catching duties in 2011. And just in case, some AL MVP catcher from the twin cities becomes a free agent after the season...
Agh, all the great first basemen the Mets have had over the years: Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Carlos Delgado, Mo Vaug-- err, anyway, the incumbent is Daniel Murphy. Murph's proved to be solid with the leather, but his hitting was a different story, although he made strides late in the year (and led the team in homers, with 12!).
Nonetheless, he could use a reduction in workload, especially against lefties, whom he hit .223 against last season. Solution? Simple. Bring in the guy you've heard followed by "Mets interested in" a gazillion times over the past few years—Nick Johnson. The guy is a lock for two things: a very high OBP and a DL trip. So why invest in someone you know will get hurt?
Well, the dice were already being rolled on Sheets and/or Harden, so the roller's feelin' lucky. But here are three things to consider/remember: 1) If and when Johnson gets hurt, Dan Murphy is not a bad first baseman, and can hold his own if pressed 2) Johnson would come cheap, and 3) When Johnson is on the field, he's a darn fine ballplayer. A lefty himself, he hits southpaws well, batting .316 against them last season. Prospect Ike Davis looks good and should be ready in a year, so no reason to commit long-term to the perennial band-aid. Two years and $11-12M should get this done.
Finally, at long last, the final piece. Bring back J.J. Putz! Of course the Mets weren't picking up the option on a $9.1M set-up man, but J.J. has something to prove, actually two things.
One, that he can pitch effectively in New York, and two, prove he's healthy enough again to close out ballgames. After re-upping with New York for a year and 3.5M, some team will pay him big bucks to be their closer in 2011.
But let's worry about that later. Putz will be back in 2010. A second left handed reliever to lighten the load of Pedro Feliciano wouldn't hurt, but the bullpen wasn't the issue, and this should only be done if it can be cheaply.
Jose Reyes, SS
Orlando Hudson, 2B
Matt Holliday, LF
David Wright, 3B
Carlos Beltran, CF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Nick Johnson, 1B
Omir Santos, C
1. Johan Santana
2. Ben Sheets
3. Randy Wolf
4. John Maine
5. Mike Pelfrey
SET: J.J. Putz
CL: Frankie Rodriguez
RHP: Bobby Parnell
RHP: Brian Stokes
RHP: Nelson Figueroa
LHP: Pedro Feliciano
LHP: Joe Beimel/Horacio Ramirez/Other?
Daniel Murphy, 1B
Ramon Castro, C
Angel Pagan, OF
Jeremy Reed, OF
Alex Cora, UTIL
Sure, the Mets would be filling almost every hole via free agency, but who cares? It didn't turn out too poorly for the Yankees last year. Plus, when all is said and done, the price they spend won't even equal half of what the Yanks gave three players (Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett) last off-season. Here's what the Mets would figure to spend:
Matt Holliday: 6Y, $108M, $18M per
Ben Sheets: 2Y, $20M (+ third year option $12M), $10M per
Randy Wolf: 3Y, $30M, $10M per
Orlando Hudson: 2Y, $12M, $6M per
Nick Johnson: 2Y, $12M, $6M per
J.J. Putz: 1Y, $3.5M, $3.5M per
Ramon Castro: 1Y, $2M, $2M per
Figure to add in another $3-4M on another lefty out of the pen and to bring back utility guys like Cora and Reed. All together, the Mets would be allotting close to $200M, but distributed well and among eight to ten players, not two or three.
They would be shelling out roughly $60M in 2010, but sometimes, dice need to be rolled. The Mets can't take a back seat any longer. By being proactive and signing these guys, none of whom are over the age of 33, the Mets will do more than turn a few heads.
Let's get to it, Omar.