New York Mets: GM Sandy Alderson Can Fix the Mets in These 10 Easy Steps
Being a Mets fan is kind of like being stranded on a deserted island—you stay alive, hoping help will come, but nothing ever does. So you sit and you wait, using leaves as toilet paper and eating bugs.
Okay, at least Citi Field does have real toilet paper in the bathrooms, and Shake Shack is considerably better tasting than bugs, but you get the idea.
Heading into this season, expectations for the Mets were all over the place. Many saw a fifth-place team with little chance. Others saw a surprise contender.
So far, the former prediction has been the right one. After last night's 2-0 loss to Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants, the Mets are 12-18 and already eight-and-a-half games out of first place. After a six-game win steak, the Mets have lost five of their last six.
There are bright spots, but Murphy's Law still prevails in Queens. Ike Davis has emerged as a legitimate offensive threat, but he can't hit left-handed pitching to save his life. Pedro Beato, a Rule-5 pick, hadn't allowed an earned run in 17 innings, but he landed on the DL yesterday with right elbow tendinitis.
Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey have struggled all season, but reclamation projects Chris Young and Chris Capuano have pitched better than expected.
The Mets' future grew a little darker as well this week. Top pitching prospect Jenry Mejia is set to have Tommy John Surgery, which would sideline him for nine to 12 months. Mejia will seek a second opinion for his injured shoulder, but this is not good news for the Mets.
Additionally, the Mets have reported they should complete the sale of a minority stake in the team some time this month. How that affects their finances and day-to-day operations won't be known until the sale is done.
All of that combines to create a very cloudy picture for the Amazin's.
So how do you fix this thing? How do you take a team from the bottom of the mountain to the summit? It can't be done overnight, and it probably can't be done this season, or even next season. But there is hope on the horizon; there are players the Mets can look to for help.
There are things general manager Sandy Alderson can do to take the Mets from worst to first.
Here's 10 of them.
Step 1: Lower Payroll
It's probably insane to think that a team with a top-10 payroll, in the biggest market in the world, should actually lower payroll, but the Mets should.
According to USA Today, the Mets' 2011 team salary is $118 million. Depending on your source, it may be listed as high as $130 million, so we'll take the difference and say it's $124 million.
Alderson made it very clear that he views the Mets payroll as "significantly higher" than it needs to be and that he intends to lower it to increase "flexibility."
In my opinion, "flexibility" means having the money to add players midseason if necessary, something the Mets currently are unable to do. Aside from the fact that they're not a winning franchise, the Mets are not in a position to add players this season.
Last year, the Mets were in contention at the All-Star break and still didn't add any players for the late-season push. It cost them and they finished fourth in the NL East, three games under .500.
That can't happen, not if the Mets want to be a winning ball club.
The important thing is that the Mets lower payroll, not out of necessity, but because it will give them the "flexibility" that Alderson wants. If that is the case, then I agree it should be done.
Imagine a Mets team with a division lead, or very close to the division lead, with the ability to add a talented pitcher or bat. That's something the Mets haven't been able to do and exactly why they need to lower payroll.
However, it all hinges on the idea that Alderson would be willing, and able, to increase payroll at times. If so, then lowering payroll should be accomplished however necessary.
And also so that the Mets can...
Step 2: Invest More in the Draft
Ah, the MLB draft. Does anyone even know when it is? Most baseball fans don't and many aren't even aware of prospects in the farm system until they start producing and getting attention.
Much like the opinions of the Mets as a team, the opinions regarding the Mets farm system are incredible varied. Some see lots of potential, while others see a barren landscape of wasted potential.
It's probably somewhere in the middle.
The Mets do have some solid prospects, but overall, their farm system needs a lot of work. The main reason for this is the Mets' adherence to baseball's slotting system, which recommends how much to spend on draft picks.
It's not required to follow the system, but the Mets have done so anyway. In the last five drafts, the Mets have spent the second least.
Alderson has said he will pay above slot to secure high-potential draft picks, but I'll believe that when I see it.
I've spent a lot of time writing about the Mets farm system, and it's clear that Alderson reads my stuff because after taking over as general manager, he immediately began making changes. He hired Paul DePodesta as vice president of player development and amateur scouting and reassigned scouting director Rudy Terrasas.
The Mets have had prospects make positive contributions on the major league level. Ike Davis has become the Mets' biggest offensive threat, Josh Thole was a solid catcher for the Mets last season and Dillon Gee has found ways to win games without having overpowering stuff (though Collins tossed him into the bullpen after two starts this season for no good reason).
But overall, the Mets farm system needs tremendous work. If Alderson intends on lowering payroll, some of the money the Mets save needs to be redirected towards the draft.
The Kansas City Royals signed Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer for a total of less than $10 million. Those two players have put up better numbers than all of the Mets' top prospects combined.
How would you feel about the Mets if they had prospects like that waiting for a call-up?
The Mets have been, and should continue to be, very aggressive internationally. Mejia, Wilmer Flores and Cesar Puello are among the Mets top prospects. But drafting baseball players is such a crap-shoot that it pays to devote more money to the players many teams discard because of their cost.
Even the Yankees, who, with their payroll, could ignore the draft almost entirely, see the benefit and have a farm system overflowing with talent as a result.
The Mets need to do the same.
Step 3: Re-Sign Jose Reyes
Okay, now, this is a tricky situation.
Here you have Jose Reyes. If he's not the best offensive player on the Mets, he's the most important. Any Mets fan knows that when Reyes gets on base, the Mets usually win.
Reyes is a free agent after this season and could cost more than the Mets can, or are willing, to spend.
After the Boston Red Sox signed outfielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract, it's reasonable to assume Reyes, if healthy, could earn a deal north of $100 million. Though questions of Reyes' health have been raised in the last two years, he's been able to stay healthy through the early part of this season.
And equally important, he's tearing it up. Reyes is batting .315 with a .366 OBP and 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts. As a leadoff hitter, Reyes has been sensational, batting a scorching .393 in the first inning.
But Reyes is not without his faults. He's only batting .115 with runners in scoring position and despite 11 stolen bases, has not been very aggressive early in the count.
For his career, Reyes' OBP is only .336. Alderson, a disciple of Moneyball, prizes OBP above all else and may not see Reyes as a good investment, at least not for $100 million.
However, with attendance dwindling, the Mets need every fan they can get into Citi Field. A team without Jose Reyes will most assuredly draw more poorly than a team with Reyes, and at the very least, Alderson needs to keep Reyes in Queens for that reason.
Alderson has already shown he's not deaf to the opinions of fans. His decision to release both Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez during spring training had as much to do with what the fans wanted as it did with performance.
Would Alderson take a similar approach with Reyes? The situation is a bit different because we're talking about ADDING payroll, rather than subtracting it, but if fans are loud enough about wanting Reyes back, it has to have some affect on Alderson.
The decision only becomes easier if Reyes stays healthy and continues to play well.
With their finances in doubt, the best the Mets can do is make the highest offer possible to Reyes and if he turns it down, shop him on the trade market. Or perhaps the Mets can trade Reyes and try to sign him as a free agent after this season. That would really be a magic trick.
However, the Mets do need to keep Reyes in blue and orange. It has to be a reasonable contract though; the Mets have been burned too many times by long-term deals.
Step 4: Replace Francisco Rodriguez
K-Rod has six saves in seven chances so far this season. He has a $17.5 million option for 2010 which vests if he finishes 55 games this season.
The Mets aren't going to let that happen.
If they can find a buyer this season, the Mets would love to trade K-Rod. If K-Rod isn't close to finishing 55 games, the Mets could trade him to a contender in need of a closer or set-up man. The Chicago White Sox are a potential suitor, but they'd only be interested if they knew they could use K-Rod at will with no risk of his option vesting.
The Mets would also have to pay some of K-Rod's salary.
Though next year's free-agent class is weak on starting pitching, it's rich in relievers. Matt Capps, Jonathan Pappelbon, Jonathan Broxton and Heath Bell are all free agents at the end of this season. Bell will most likely cost too much (and he hates the Mets), but Pappelbon and Broxton are two closers who have had success in the past but have lost value in recent years.
The Mets could bring in either one fairly cheap and both could benefit from a change in scenery and the friendly confines of Citi Field.
For in-house candidates, Bobby Parnell and Jason Isringhausen could fill the closer's role next season, but the Mets would be better off signing a free agent. Parnell has been up and down as a reliever and Isringhausen is better suited for the eighth inning.
If Alderson wants to continue his run of signing low-risk/high-reward players, there are closers available next year that fall under that category.
Step 5: Get Reese Havens Healthy and into Second Base
On June 4, 2010, the Mets faced the Florida Marlins with an entirely homegrown infield. Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, Jose Reyes and David Wright were all in the lineup. It was great to see the Mets farm system produce something worth watching.
The Mets need to get that feeling back, and it starts with getting Reese Havens healthy. Havens, 24, was selected by the Mets in the first round (22nd pick) in the 2008 MLB June Amateur Draft.
Havens has battled multiple oblique injuries during his minor league career and was eventually diagnosed with "Rib Tip Syndrome." It's not nearly as delicious as it sounds. The injury led to offseason surgery to remove part of a rib and the Mets hope the procedure will prevent future injury.
Havens continues to rehab and has yet to play in 2011.
Havens played in just 32 games in 2010, batting .312 with nine home runs and 19 RBI between High-A Port St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. When Havens does return, it will be to play second base for Binghamton.
Along with Wilmer Flores, Havens is the Mets' top infield prospect. Flores, 19, is expected to eventually need to move to the outfield, which could leave Havens as the Mets lone infielder of the future.
The sooner Havens gets back into games, the better. If Havens had been healthy at the start of spring training this year, it's very likely he would have won the open second base job, which eventually went to the since-released Brad Emaus.
Daniel Murphy has been better than expected at second base so far this season, but the position will eventually belong to Havens.
If the Mets can get Havens healthy, he will fill second base and give the Mets one less position to worry about.
Step 6: Sign Ike Davis to a Long-Term Contract
This one is something that can most certainly wait. But if Davis continues to produce as he has this season, it shouldn't.
It's entirely possible, and quite likely, that the Mets will lose both Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes to free agency after this season. They'll look to trade both, and once it happens, Mets fans will be left with very few bright spots.
One that will remain, the brightest of all, is Davis.
Davis is batting .312 (three points behind Jose Reyes for the team-lead), and leads the team with six home runs, 22 RBI and a .394 OBP.
In the offseason, Davis shortened his swing and the results have been tremendous. He's being dominated by left-handed pitching (.176 BAA), but he's taking full advantage of right-handers (.373 BAA).
Defensively, Davis doesn't lose a step. If the gold glove wasn't just a popularity contest, Davis certainly would have won it at first base last season.
Davis only has one year of major league experience, so the odds of the Mets pulling the trigger on a contract extension are slim, but it would go a long way towards soothing a fanbase preparing to watch Reyes and Beltran leave this season.
Right now, Davis is on pace for 32 home runs and 118 RBI. That's offensive production the Mets haven't had from first base since Carlos Delgado.
With teams like the Colorado Rockies (Carlos Gonzalez), the Boston Red Sox (Clay Buchholz) and the Oakland A's (Trevor Cahill) locking up their players to long-term contracts and reasonable rates, the Mets should do the same with Davis.
It can certainly wait until after this season, and it should. But if Davis finishes this season with solid numbers, which he's on pace to do, the Mets should act quickly and lock Davis up.
Step 7: Replace Carlos Beltran
Carlos Beltran will not play for the Mets in 2012.
They need a replacement obviously.
There are several options here. While the Mets farm system might not be among the best in baseball, one thing it does have is outfielders galore.
Fernando Martinez, once the Mets' top prospect, has battled injuries his entire minor league career. He's got the tools, but just can't stay on the field.
He's already spent time on the DL because of a hamstring injury at Triple-A Buffalo but returned to the lineup on April 23. Since then, Martinez is 7-for-29 with one homer and five RBI.
If he's healthy when the time comes, Martinez is likely the first call-up if the Mets trade Beltran.
In 36 at-bats in the major leagues, Martinez has a .174 batting average with one home run and 10 RBI.
Cesar Puello and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are the Mets top outfield prospects. Puello, 20, is currently playing at High-A Port St. Lucie. Nieuwenhuis, 23, is batting .316 with four home runs and eight RBI in 27 games for Triple-A Buffalo this season.
Next year's free agent class doesn't have many outfielders worth signing to replace Beltran. Andre Ethier has said he does not believe he'll be with the Los Angeles Dodgers after this season and given the state of the Dodgers' finances, he's probably right.
Ethier would be an excellent addition for the Mets but it's unlikely Alderson would want to spend the money he wont spend on Reyes to sign Ethier. Additionally, Ethier is atrocious in the outfield, and right field at Citi Field is a difficult place to play.
Most likely, the Mets will try to find a temporary outfielder to give their prospects more time to develop. However, I personally believe the Mets should chose one of their outfield prospects, Martinez or Nieuwenhuis, and plug them into the outfield
Jose Pridie should also be in the mix.
Given the state of the Mets farm system, no teams are breaking down Alderson's door to talk trades. There's no harm in giving the youngsters a shot.
Step 8: Bolster the Starting Rotation, Give Dillon Gee a Full-Time Spot
The Mets are currently 13th in the NL in starter's ERA (4.75), and that's with reclamation project Chris Young (1-0, 1.88 ERA) paying huge dividends.
Last year's brightest spot, R.A. Dickey, has taken a huge step back this season. After leading the team with a 2.84 ERA, Dickey has allowed 12 earned runs over his last three starts (20 2/3 innings).
Dickey has pitched past the sixth inning just once this season and his walk rates have shot up from 1.40 BB/9 in 2010 to 2.48 this season.
Mike Pelfrey has been the worst offender or all, posting a 7.14 ERA over his first six starts. Last season, Pelfrey was 4-1 with a 2.40 ERA through his first six starts.
The Mets have got to find a way to get better starting pitching. Whether that happens this season or in the offseason is up to Alderson.
The Mets got a huge boost from Dillon Gee, who made two starts after Young landed on the DL. Gee went 2-0 with a 2.31 ERA, defeating the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks. Once Young returned to the rotation, though, manager Terry Collins demoted reliever D.J. Carrasco to Triple-A and put Gee in the bullpen.
Quite frankly, Gee had pitched far too well to languish in the bullpen and Collins' decision is insulting.
In his first relief appearance, against, of all teams, the Philadelphia Phillies, Gee served up a grand slam to Ryan Howard. Gee has since made two scoreless appearances, but he needs to be in the starting rotation.
If that means the Mets carry Gee in the bullpen and give him starts, essentially creating a six-man rotation, then they should do so. Capuano is also a bullpen candidate should the Mets simply plug Gee back into the rotation.
Either way, Gee should not be in the bullpen. With the injury to Jenry Mejia, it stands to reason that Gee will be in the Mets rotation next season. I don't want to see Gee's development hindered by relief appearances.
The 2012 free-agent class is weak on starting pitching. C.J. Wilson will probably be the best starter available if he doesn't resign with Texas. If Matt Harvey continues to dominate and rises quickly through the minor leagues, the Mets should also not hesitate to add him to the rotation in 2012.
It's unlikely that Harvey will have an impact to start the season next year, but if he's pitching this well (can you imagine?), there's no reason to hold him up. Ask the San Francisco Giants what can happen when you don't baby your pitching prospects.
Either way, the Mets need to improve the rotation, either through free agency, trades or the farm system.
Step 9: Give Youngsters a Chance
I've already said that Reese Havens needs to get healthy and play second base and that Dillon Gee deserves a rotation spot, especially with Chris Young's most recent return to the DL, but the Mets need more help than that.
With Angel Pagan on the DL, the Mets called up Jason Pridie from Triple-A Buffalo. Since April 22, Pridie has hit three home runs, two of which were clutch, go-ahead home runs. On May 6, the Los Angeles Dodgers elected to intentionally walk Ike Davis to pitch to Pridie leading 3-2. Pridie crushed a three-run homer to left-center field to give the Mets a 5-3 lead.
That's the kind of gritty attitude you can sometimes only get from young prospects with something to prove. Though he's not a prospect, Daniel Murphy's play at second base so far is another example.
Right now, the Mets' bench has been terrible. Willie Harris and Scott Hairston have not provided the defense or power they were brought in to add. Chin Lung-Hu seems to have no purpose on the team, not with Jose Reyes healthy.
Most teams prefer to keep their prospects in the minors and playing every day, rather than fighting for at-bats on the bench. But let's face it, the Mets don't have many prospects. Most of the guys labeled "prospects," have spent many years in the minors and have yet to earn an extended call-up.
It might be asking too much, but having guys like Fernando Martinez, Lucas Duda and Jason Pridie on the bench isn't going to give the Mets any less than their current bench. When Pagan is ready to come off the DL, it should be Harris, not Pridie, who gets to stay.
The Mets real "prospects," guys like Havens, Matt Harvey, Cesar Puello, and Wilmer Flores need to develop. But the Mets also have guys that are playing well in the minor leagues, yet don't earn call-ups, or simply aren't prospects anymore and need a chance.
The Mets also need to replace Carlos Beltran after this season and his replacement should come from within.
Step 10: Better Promotions at Citi Field
This step isn't as important as the previous nine. Nothing is going to draw fans to Citi Field better than a good team, but there are those diehard fans that come out no matter what.
Those fans shouldn't have to come to Citi Field and spend $8 on a hamburger from Shake Shack. Now don't misunderstand, I love Shake Shack. Who doesn't!?
But can we get a dollar hot dog night or maybe a "throwback night," where all concessions cost what they did when the Mets first started in the 1960s?
Maybe all the concession workers wear old-timey uniforms?
Free parking night?
Certainly the Mets aren't making so much money that they can afford to give things away for free, but how many of you reading this have said to yourselves, "I want to go to a Mets game, but the train takes too long and parking is too expensive."
Well, for one night, parking is free.
There needs to be a better effort to draw fans into Citi Field. The team isn't doing it so it's time to think outside the box.