Carlos Delgado was left for dead by most New York Mets fans earlier this season. After putting up a .254 average, 24 home runs, and 87 RBI (all full-season lows for his career) in 2007, Delgado was batting just .198 through April and only .215 nearly two months into 2008.
Fans were calling for Mike Carp to be promoted from Double-A and for Delgado to be given his walking papers.
Delgado kept at it, slowly improving in June before embarking on the game of his life at Yankee Stadium.
Two home runs and nine RBI later, Delgado's slump had officially been snapped, no blasted. In the two months since, Delgado has reclaimed his spot in the middle of the Mets lineup and re-inserted himself as a force.
He has hit over 60 percent of his home runs in roughly 40 percent of the season since late June. After two more home runs and six more RBI Monday night against the Houston Astros, Delgado is now on pace for over 30 home runs and over 100 RBI. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.
That's right. I didn't think anyone would.
Let me be the first to say that watching Carlos Delgado's turnaround in the second half of this season after a season and a half of sometimes unwatchable performances has been among the best stories in baseball.
However, with Delgado's roster spot not guaranteed past this season, it would behoove the Mets to take Delgado's season for what it is: lightning in a bottle. The team's focus in the offseason, rather than exercising his option, should be to let him go and sign Los Angeles Angels first baseman Mark Teixeira.
As it stands, Delgado's contract calls for a 2009 option to be vested at $16 million if he finishes among the top vote-getters for NL MVP this year. With that outcome unlikely, the Mets can either re-up him for $12 million or pay him a $4 million buyout. With $4 million in sunk costs to the Mets, is Delgado worth $8 million to the Mets next season?
Delgado may perform well enough be worth $8 million next year. Somewhere in the .260-25-80 range is not far-fetched. However, turning 37 next June, it is more likely Delgado will revert back to his 2007 and early 2008 form.
More importantly, though, is that a franchise first baseman will be on the market this offseason. Teixeira is in the final year of his contract and he and his agent, Scott Boras, have vowed to swim in the free-agent waters.
Teixeira is entering his prime (he'll be 29 next April) and has put up career averages of .286-34-111 entering this season. And, all he's done since being traded from the Atlanta Braves to Los Angeles is hit .368 with seven home runs and 20 RBI in 24 games for the best team in baseball. And, while Delgado is generally regarded as a clubhouse leader, hardly a bad word has been said about Teixeira's clubhouse demeanor.
Teixeira will break the bank this offseason. Seven or eight years and $120-$160 million is not unreasonable. The cost to the Mets to get Teixeira over Delgado is probably about $10 million...just for next season. So why pony up the extra bucks for somebody who is not worth more than twice the amount of money as the alternative?
A look at the free agent lists at first base the next couple of years shows a barren list of impact bats. After Teixeira and Delgado, the 2009 list includes some aging sluggers (Jim Thome and Jason Giambi) and a couple more bats in the twilight of their careers (Frank Thomas, Kevin Millar, Richie Sexson). The only significant addition to the 2010 list is Aubrey Huff.
So, if the Mets miss out on Teixeira this offseason, they are not left with much of a fallback plan in years to come and do not have an impact first base prospect waiting in the wings. Delgado is good for one or two more years. Why delay the chance to get significantly better just to hang on to one of your own, hoping he can turn back time?
Teams like the Boston Red Sox are so good at realizing when to let go of players that have meant a lot to their success and remaining successful without them. The Sox were able to do that with Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, and this year, Manny Ramirez, to name a few.
Another nugget to factor in is the opening of Citi Field next season. If the Mets sign Teixeira for 2009, they have the following players locked up long-term: Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran (through 2011), David Wright, and Johan Santana (through 2013), and Teixeira through roughly 2015. That list does not even include John Maine and Mike Pelfrey, both young pitchers about to enter their prime. And, out of all those guys, only Beltran is above 30.
That is a decent little foundation to market through the first few years in a new ballpark that will net them millions in extra income each season.
Delgado has become relevant again in the New York baseball landscape. The way he has performed the second half of the season may help lead the Mets to the playoffs again. But, no matter how much of a feel-good story he becomes down the stretch, this offseason is the right time for the Mets to cut the cord on Delgado.