Hopefully for fans of the New York Mets, memories of this off-season will be filled with only happy thoughts. One way to ensure that is for the "Moneyball with Money" crew to avoid being too reactionary.
This means not making moves because your fans are fed up with the current roster.
Because if you look at the roster, this team can compete with its current makeup. The Mets don't need to rush out and sign anybody or trade away their players. They have quite a collection of talent, mercurial as much of it may be, and the 2011 season can be played in a holding pattern as the new star-studded front office formulates a plan moving forward.
This isn't to say new general manager Sandy Alderson and his cohorts, special assistant J.P. Ricciardi and vice president of player development and scouting Paul DePodesta, shouldn't jump into action if the right deal can be made.
But the Mets roster, as currently constructed, will give the team a shot at a wild card in 2011 and then leave Alderson and crew with an incredible amount of cap space to work with.
The 2011 season will be the final shot this group of players has to prove their worth to Mets fans. Let's take a look at how the team stacks up.
At the Plate
Carlos Beltran, who played 159 games and posted a .915 OPS with 38 home runs and 42 stolen bases in his last contract year, will come into 2011 completely healthy. After dragging his feet upon returning from injury more than halfway through the 2010 season, Beltran hit really well in September, posting a .321/.365/.603 triple slash stat line. If Beltran can stay healthy— which is a questionable proposition— he should be a great middle of the order bat.
In a similar boat is Jose Reyes. After dragging his feet at the start of the 2010 season while he got back into the swing of things, Reyes hit .310 with an .829 OPS over his final 80 games of the 2010 season. Again, staying healthy is a questionable proposition. But if he can, he will be another key component of a Mets offense that was never firing on all cylinders this past year.
Then there is Jason Bay. The Mets big free agent acquisition is not going to have another year like 2010. His .749 OPS is nearly .150 points lower than his career OPS coming into the season.
Add a healthy season from these three to David Wright, Angel Pagan, and what should be a season of moderate improvement for first baseman Ike Davis, and the Mets have a solid core around which to base their offense going into the 2011 season.
Naturally, Beltran will need to move to right field and allow Pagan to takeover in center field. All that will do is improve the Mets outfield defense.
That leaves holes at second base and catcher.
Unless Luis Castillo can be traded, he wouldn't be a bad bench player at this point in his career; but it's unlikely that he could handle the full workload at second, or that a competent general manager would expect him to.
At catcher, Josh Thole should be able to at least partially handle the starting duties.
This means the Mets should be looking to fill the hole at second base and sign another catcher to platoon with Thole. In both instances the Mets would be best served to fill the positions without making a big splash.
They could make a run at Orlando Hudson. But back in 2007, the Mets acquired a 32-year-old second baseman. How has that worked out for them? Hudson will be 33 in 2011.
What if they gave Reese Havens a shot in 2011? Would the 25-year-old be any worse than any of the overpriced, over-the-hill veterans on the market?
Plus, if the core six players perform up to expectations, the Mets will not need to make such ridiculous splashes at the other positions in order to field an offense that could keep up with any National League team.
Last year, the problem was that the team was never firing on all cylinders at once. Hopefully they avoid that problem in 2011.
On the Mound
For all the complaints levied against the Mets and their lack of depth in the rotation, the team's pitching was actually their strength.
Behind Johan Santana, Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey should form a decent rotation.
While Santana is no longer the same ace as he was in Minnesota, he is still a good top of the rotation starter, as evidenced by his 2.98 ERA. His hit rate is increasing and his strikeout rate is going down, which are both bad signs. That's why it's becoming more important for the Mets to have strong pitchers behind him.
With Niese, Pelfrey and Dickey they sort of have that.
R.A. Dickey is not going to duplicate his numbers from last season. That being said, he is a relatively new 36-year-old knuckleballer. Knuckleballers have a long shelf-life. Dickey should be a solid piece of the rotation.
Mike Pelfrey is not a top of the rotation starter, but he is a decent middle of the rotation option. The same can probably be said of Jon Niese.
What the Mets need is another starter to increase the rotation depth and not have to thrust too much responsibility on a guy like Dillon Gee.
However, it's highly unlikely that the Mets will want to try and stand toe-to-toe with the Yankees in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, so their targets will be the next rung of free agent pitchers. So they should try and sign a veteran that will come at a relatively low cost and not want a ridiculously long contract. Aiming for a pitcher like Ted Lilly, Carl Pavano or Javier Vazquez would give the Mets a strong one-five with talent from the farm providing depth.
Vazquez is particularly intriguing. After his abysmal season for the Yankees, he could use a return to the NL East where he's seen his best perfomance, including a 2.87 ERA in 2009 with 238 strikeouts.
In the bullpen, the Mets should hand Francisco Rodriguez his job back. They are not going to get anybody more talented to close other than Rafael Soriano. But adding a guy that will most likely want to close for a lot of money is pointless when you already are paying a guy a lot of money to close.
The variability of success in the bullpen is astounding, so making suggestions on what to do with a bullpen in the offseason is a recipe for having egg on your face come April. It is best to let things remain fluid when it comes to the bullpen and lean on organizational depth. Names that strike us as valuable abound on the list of free agent relievers. The Mets should probably sign one or two, but speculating on that is pointless at this point.
Just because the Mets rotation was a strength last year doesn't mean they should stay put. In fact, it is the one place they should make a move.
2011 New York Mets
This Mets team will be competitive, at least competitive enough to start the new front office out on good standing with the fans.
At first they may be upset about the lack of moves. But look at the money coming off the books after the 2011 season: Carlos Beltran ($18.5 million), Oliver Perez ($12 million), Francisco Rodriguez ($11.5 million), Jose Reyes ($11 million) and Luis Castillo ($6 million).
That's $59 million coming off the books in one offseason. In the meantime, Alderson and the rest of the "Moneyball with Money" crew can maneuver and tinker with the organization to prepare for using money wisely. Restructure the farm system, evaluate what's already in the cupboard (Fernando Martinez, Lucas Duda, Dillon Gee, Ruben Tejada etc...should all have reserve roles at some point or another during the season) and get low-budget value players in place to complement either free agent signings or assets acquired via trade.
If the new front office can trade off guys like Castillo or Perez then more power to them. But if they can't, things won't be so bad in 2011 if the New York Mets are left as currently constructed.