The 2011 Mets Will Have a Very Different Look After This Year's Trading Deadline
Seemingly just as quickly as trade rumors regarding New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez surfaced, he was gone. In one fell swoop late Tuesday night, Mets GM Sandy Alderson traded K-Rod and cash to the Milwaukee Brewers for two players to be named later. Like many other Mets fans, I rejoiced that our non-contending team's expensive closer was now another franchise's headache.
With the trading deadline rapidly approaching, however, the K-Rod deal led to several questions about the front office's direction. Will this first trade lead to a complete fire sale? Do the Mets intend on making a playoff run without K-Rod? There indisputably seem to be more transactions on the horizon for the Amazins; let's consider which players should be shopped to other teams and who the Mets would be wise to hold on to.
If anything, the Mets front office should trade Carlos Beltran out of courtesy for him. Signing a seven-year deal before the 2005 season, Beltran's played October baseball just once during his time as a Met. Following the 2006 season, it would have been difficult to envision just how poorly this Mets team would play in years to come.
Frequently targeted by the press for being injury prone and playing a lackadaisical style of baseball, Beltran never seemed to be a fan favorite in New York. When healthy, however, Beltran's always been an elite outfielder capable of putting up big numbers. With an OPS of .880 so far in his 2011 campaign, Beltran figures to be a rental player who many GMs will target. He's in the last year of his salary, so no commitment will be involved, and he's shown in the past what type of impact he can have for a playoff team (as a member of the 2004 Houston Astros he hit seven home runs in one playoff series).
In a Beltran trade, the Mets will be giving up legitimate value that will hurt their offense. Games will almost certainly be lost due to his absence from the lineup, but a return of three or more highly regarded prospects will help this franchise for years to come. If Sandy Alderson decides that the Mets are sellers, dealing Carlos Beltran makes sense on every level.
The idea of trading Reyes can be a tantalizing one. Reyes has never before matched production at the level he's shown thus far in the young 2011 season, and he would almost certainly net a return of four or more high quality prospects.
One the many problems, however, with dealing Reyes is that there's no replacement for him at any level of the organization. Combining every aspect of his game, there's nobody who can come even close to matching his numbers. Whenever Reyes has hit the DL in years past, think of some of the downright mediocre options the Mets have used in his place—Ramon Martinez, Anderson Hernandez, Damion Easley...point being, the Mets aren't (and never have been) ready for Reyes' long-term departure.
While the Mets would indisputably receive some of the best prospects this game has to offer in return for Reyes, the front office would be foolish to give up on signing him to a long-term deal. The rewards this organization would reap from five or more years from Jose Reyes are difficult to calculate. This is a player who provides constant production at his position, and at times has kept his team in contention in single handed fashion. Even if the Mets wind up losing him in free agency and have only the two draft picks from his Type-A status to show for it, it's better to risk re-signing him than to give up at this point in the season.
Prior to the beginning of the season, Sandy Alderson brought aboard two talented yet injury-prone starters to help out the team's depleted pitching staff; Chris Young and Chris Capuano. The idea was that while neither was likely to remain healthy for a full season, it was well worth giving them incentive-laden contracts if they could match levels of production they've displayed in years past. As could have been expected, one of these pitchers (Chris Young) hit the DL early in the season for good with shoulder tightness. Capuano has been a different story entirely. To the tune of a solid 1.35 WHIP and 7.6 K/9 rate, he's provided the Mets with 102.2 very solid innings.
After reading the above, one might wonder why I'd implore the Mets to measure Capuano's value on the trading market. Simply put, if there's one group of baseball players that tend to receive absurdly disproportionate trade returns from general managers, it's starting pitchers. Playoff bound teams are always looking to shore up their rotations in anticipation of the season's final push, and Chris Capuano could figure to be a very attractive target.
The unfortunate fact of the matter regarding Capuano is that his injury history can't be ignored. A former recipient of Tommy John surgery, Capuano's health didn't allow him to pitch in a major league game from 2007-2010, and he's left a handful of games early this season due to various health concerns. It's a safe bet that Sandy Alderson will try to target trigger-happy GMs who are looking for reliable starters, even at the cost of turning a blind eye to legitimate injury concerns. The Mets have some young talented starters available at the Triple-A level (Chris Schwinden an Dylan Owen come to mind) who could fill in Capuano's vacant rotation spot. If the Mets could net a return of two or so B-level prospects or more, why not deal Capuano?
Ronny Paulino is more interesting than your typical 30-year-old journeyman catcher. Though the Mets are now his third organization, Paulino's arguably never played to the level of his skill-set. The combination of work ethic/weight concerns and poor hitting production confirmed his exit from the Pittsburgh organization, and after failing a drug test while a member of the Marlins, Paulino's value was at an all time low in the offseason.
By this point in July, however, Paulino's been one of the team's few sources of consistent offense. His numbers may be inflated by a high BAbip (.379), but he appears to be in better shape and more locked in than he had in years past. Additionally, at 30 years old, Paulino may have a few years remaining of displaying offensive prowess while catching (a position in which hitting ability is always in demand). Josh Thole has not shown the ability to take over everyday responsibilities thus far in the season; I see no issue in starting the 2012 season with this year's identical platoon of Josh Thole versus right-handers and Ronny Paulino versus left-handers.
On the heels of a clutch game winning pinch-hit home run off San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson, Hairston's stock appears to be reaching its peak. Hairston, a right handed hitting outfielder, would be attractive to contending clubs for a variety of reasons. His contract doesn't require any type of commitment; it's a one-year deal worth just over a million dollars. He's always displayed a knack for providing pop against left-handed pitching (Hairston's career OPS against lefties is a formidable .817), and would fit in nicely as a reserve outfielder on a playoff bound team.
While Hairston has recovered nicely from a dreadful slump to begin the season, he's very replaceable on this 2011 Mets club. Nick Evans, an out-of-options utility man currently on the 25-man roster, maintained an OPS of .858 in Triple A Buffalo while playing four different positions. Additionally, utility man Josh Satin (who has yet to see big league action) is wearing out Double-A pitching (ten home runs on the season with a .425 OBP). There is an excess of competent right-hand hitting position players in the Mets farm system, replacing Hairston would hardly be a significant blow to the organization.
The Mets bullpen is very different today than it was before Tuesday night. With Francisco Rodriguez's departure, the Mets are left with an exceedingly thin bullpen, almost exempt entirely of veteran presence. True, K-Rod's absence hurts the bullpen, but a trade of Jason Isringhausen could make things turn downright ugly. Without Izzy there will be nobody in the pen with any history of closing; Bobby Parnell will have to learn the job on the fly, while simultaneously continuing work on developing a decent off-speed pitch.
In recent days, Isringhausen has conveyed to reporters a desire to stay put in New York. Realistically, it's difficult to envision any general manager making a dumb enough decision to trade a prospect with a bright future for Izzy; a player most fans likely assumed was retired prior to the start of the season. While Jason's put up excellent numbers out of the pen, a 38-year-old reliever recovering from a surgically repaired right elbow forecasts a trip to the DL at some point before the year's end. If all Sandy Alderson has to gain in a trade is a C-level prospect, he's probably better off holding onto Izzy and keeping his bullpen relatively intact.
The logic in trading Tim Byrdak is simple enough. He's a left handed reliever who was signed for almost nothing in the offseason, and he's been a pleasant surprise our of the bullpen all season. Successful left-handed relievers are always a valued commodity at the big league level; some general manager will almost certainly take the bait and trade some low level prospect for Byrdak.
Replacing Byrdak's production isn't a task likely to give Sandy Alderson much trouble. Southpaw Justin Hampson, a former San Diego Padre, is having an excellent season in Triple A Buffalo. Well-traveled left-handed relievers rarely turn into prized long-term possessions of any organization; after this season Byrdak will likely continue bouncing from team to team, so why not get any type of value for him while he's a Met?