Earlier today, New York Mets GM Sandy Alderson sat down with ESPN's Adam Rubin and addressed several of the issues surrounding the team heading into 2011.
Rubin is an excellent Mets writer and definitely asked the questions fans are most concerned about. Alderson, to his credit, answered all of them fairly well, but left a lot to the interpretation of the fans.
Chief among the issues addressed by Alderson were the Mets' second base competition, the fifth starter, the use of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo next season, and potential multi-year deals for several Mets players.
I'll review the most important questions posed by Rubin, and Alderson's answers, and give my analysis. Any comments or thoughts...leave them below.
Rubin: You’ve wanted to maintain flexibility for spending in future offseasons. Would that preclude a multi-year deal for any of those arbitration-eligible players?
Alderson: “I wouldn’t rule that out necessarily. Certainly we want to maintain flexibility for next year, but we also want to have flexibility in solving some of the issues we face this year. I wouldn’t entirely rule that possibility out.”
The arbitration eligible players in question are R.A. Dickey, Mike Pelfrey and Angel Pagan. All three are arbitration eligible and Alderson said there hasn't been much negotiation thus far, and there probably won't be until the figures are exchanged between the two sides on Jan. 18.
Dickey, at the age of 36, will finally get his first shot at a big pay day. Last season, Dickey went 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA and was arguably the Mets' best pitcher.
Most likely, Dickey will receive a significant pay raise through arbitration, but wont receive a multi-year deal until the Mets see he can duplicate his 2010 numbers.
Mike Pelfrey (15-9, 3.66 ERA, 113 SO) is poised to receive the biggest raise of the three arbitration eligible players. He made just $500,000 last season, and that could increase to $3-4 million for Pelfrey, whose agent is Scott Boras.
Pelfrey is certainly deserving of a mutli-year deal, given his ability, age and the lack of starting pitching depth heading into 2011. Alderson may want to maintain payroll flexibility heading into next year, but Pelfrey needs to be locked up. I don't think a four-year, $48 million deal is out of the question.
Angel Pagan, 29, had a breakout season in 2010.
He hit .290 with 11 home runs, 69 RBI and 37 stolen bases. He showed he is capable of playing all three outfield positions, but the majority of his starts came in center field. Depending on where the Mets choose to play Carlos Beltran next season, Pagan could, once again, serve as the Mets' center fielder.
Pagan made $1.5 million last season, a figure which could double though arbitration. Beltran is a free agent after this season and could be dealt at the trade deadline. If the Mets see Pagan as their center fielder of the future, he could receive a multi-year deal. The Mets do have other outfield options, such as Fernando Martinez, and may chose to keep that payroll flexibility by holding off on a multi-year deal for Pagan.
We'll wait and see what the Mets do, and Alderson said they're not looking to use multi-year deals as a way of settling arbitration cases.
Rubin: As far as needs for the remainder of this offseason, the Chris Capuano signing does not preclude you from adding another starting pitcher? And how likely is it that you add a starting pitcher of that caliber/contract or greater?
Alderson: “First of all, signing Capuano does not preclude us from signing another starting pitcher. I’d like to sign another starting pitcher -- probably the same type of deal that Capuano has [$1.5 million base, with roughly $3 million in performance incentives]. I am hopeful of signing another starting pitcher.”
The Mets' payroll limitations have kept their focus on low risk/high reward-type players. Two of their offseason signings thus far (Capuano and Taylor Buchholz) certainly fall under that category.
Signing Capuano, though he does have a lot of potential upside, does not immediately solve the Mets' issues at the No. 5 spot in the rotation, and they should look to add at least two other candidates. The Mets have been connected with names like Jeff Francis and Chris Young, both of whom are coming off injury, and Alderson said the progress with both of those players is "beyond the discussion stage."
There haven't been any formal offers yet, but certainly the Mets are in need of starting pitching. It's unlikely they'd bring in Capuano, Francis and Young, as any one of those could fill the fifth spot, but the No. 4 spot is also possibly open, although Dillon Gee has been penciled into that spot for the moment.
Rubin: In terms of left-handed relief, do you foresee signing someone to a major league deal, or someone very capable to an invite to spring training? Or is the current roster of contenders (Oliver Perez, Mike O’Connor, Eric Niesen, Roy Merritt) the entirety of who is under consideration?
Alderson: “The short answer is yes, I do anticipate signing -- or certainly trying to sign -- someone to fill that role for us.”
The loss of Pedro Feliciano hurts the Mets bullpen in a big way. He was the Mets' most reliable reliever (MLB-high 92 appearances in 2010), and he owned the big lefty bats of the NL East. Without him, the Mets need to find a way to keep guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Brian McCann in check.
No Mets fans wants to see Oliver Perez anywhere near the team in 2011 (and Alderson also addressed that issues which I'll discuss later), but lack of options may leave them no choice. Out of the in-house candidates Rubin mentioned, only Mike O'Connor posted any numbers in the minors to get excited about. In 51 appearances, O'Connor went 5-2 with a 2.67 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP.
Pat Misch is another in-house possibility, but he can't be expected to fill Feliciano's shoes. In terms of free agent lefty relievers, Will Ohman, Joe Beimel and Ron Mahay are available, probably on the cheap. The arm the should target though, if the price is right, is Brian Fuentes, who held lefties to a .128 BAA and righties to a .202 BAA.
Note: Rubin asked Alderson whether or not any Mets personnel had gone to Mexico to see Oliver Perez pitch in person. Alderson replied, "Nobody has gone yet. That hasn't materialized, and it may not at this point."
Rubin: In terms of second base, Luis Castillo -- in addition to Oliver Perez -- is a lightning rod for the fan base. If Castillo does not win the second base job, is there another role for him on this team? He does not have a lot of pop, or run-producing ability as a pinch-hitter. And I don’t know that he’s capable of playing multiple positions. Is it kind of second base or bust for him?
Alderson: “Well, that’s certainly his best role on the team. If he’s going to be on the club, it probably will have to be as the regular second baseman, or somebody who plays quite a bit of the time at second base. He just doesn’t give us enough coverage other places to play a utility role. So I would say he needs to have a role on the team. And I think that’s probably his best and maybe only role -- regular duty at second base.”
Castillo appeared in just 86 games for the Mets last season, 74 at second base. Castillo is due $6 million next season and much like Oliver Perez, most Mets fans want him kept away from the team in 2011.
Luckily for the Mets, Alderson certainly gave the impression that Castillo's only option for making the Opening Day roster is as the starting second baseman, and the Mets have a lot of in-house candidates for the position to compete. Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus, Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner are all potential second basemen and were impressive in the Winter League this season.
The Mets also traded for infielder Chin-lung Hu, but Alderson has said his role is most likely as a bench player and back up middle infielder.
Castillo has a lot of competition heading into Spring Training and if he can serve no other purpose other than second base, it may be that Mets fans will get their wish and Castillo will be given his money and shown the door.
Rubin: Johan Santana’s timetable for picking up a baseball and tossing following shoulder surgery had been moved up to early January. Has that occurred yet? Is it imminent?
Alderson: “I think he’s supposed to be seen by doctors this week or next -- maybe this week -- to get a clearance to do that. So I would expect once he obtains that clearance he will go ahead and start throwing. I don’t think that has occurred yet.”
No one can question former Mets GM Omar Minaya's decision to trade for Johan Santana. At the time, Santana was arguably the best pitcher in baseball and even now, the trade was a steal for the Mets. However, given the Mets' inability to score runs for Santana and the fact that Santana's seasons have ended in injury three straight years, his presence in the rotation has been inconsequential.
That said, the Mets desperately need Santana to come back from injury if they're going to have any chance of contending in 2011. At the moment, the timetable for Santana's return is some time around the All-Star break. If the Mets are anywhere near contention at that time, and Santana pitched well after his return, that would be a huge boost to the team.
For now though, Mike Pelfrey moves into the No.1 spot in the rotation and the Mets will hope R.A. Dickey can repeat his 2010 success, Jon Niese continues to develop, and the Mets' No. 4 and No. 5 starters produce.