New York Mets: A Look Ahead to 2009, Part I

Patrick MurraySenior Analyst INovember 13, 2008

The MLB hot stove is heating up. At midnight, when the calendar turns to Nov. 14, teams can be begin to sign free agents.

At midnight, General Manager Omar Minaya and the Mets will begin perhaps their most important offseason in team history. In this three part series, I will look at the Mets' needs for the 2009 season and how Minaya should take care of them.

The biggest need for the Mets this offseason is pitching. The most glaring weakness is the bullpen, but I will start with a look at the starting rotation. You know the saying, "pitching wins championships," and it all starts with the guys who take the hill to begin the game. Consistent quality starts from the rotation can work wonders for the bullpen.

Under Contract

Johan Santana, 2008 Stats: 16-7, 2.53 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 206 K's.

The biggest piece of the Mets rotation was acquired last offseason. Santana proved to Mets fans this year that he can be an the ace in New York. His complete-game shutout on three days rest in a must-win game was an incredible feat, especially since Santana did it with a torn meniscus in his knee.

Santana led the National League in ERA and innings pitched en route to finishing third in the Cy Young voting in 2008. The Mets will rely on him to carry the load in 2009 and he will set the tone for the rest of the rotation.

Mike Pelfrey, 2008 Stats: 13-11, 3.72 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 110 K's.

Omar Minaya was able to hold onto Pelfrey, who could have been part of the Santana deal, and it worked out in his favor. Mets' fans were growing impatient with the young prospect, but the 6'7" Pelfrey had a breakout season in 2008.

After a slow start, Pelfrey emerged as a solid pitcher for the Mets during the summer months when he posted a 3.00 ERA to go with an 11-2 record. Pelfrey's success can be attributed to his regaining his confidence and subsequently pounding the strike zone with his mid-90s sinking fastball. Big Pelf tied for the National League lead with 29 double plays. Expect Pelfrey to build on his success in 2009 at Citi Field.

John Maine, 2008 Stats: 10-8, 4.18 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 122 K's.

After a solid 2007, Maine seemed to struggle throughout 2008. Maine often had problems finding the strike zone, as evidenced by his 1.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This often led to high pitch counts and leaving the game early. Maine pitched into the seventh inning in just three of his 25 starts, which didn't help the struggling bullpen.

Although, these problems could be attributed to injury. Maine made two trips to disabled list after the All-Star break, and had surgery to remove bone spurs from his shoulder at the end of the season.

Maine is expected to be ready to go for Spring Training and I think he will bounce back from his disappointing 2008 campaign and put up outstanding numbers in 2009. A healthy John Maine is a great asset to the Mets rotation.


Bring Back Perez?

A big question coming into the offseason is whether or not the Mets will re-sign Oliver Perez. Unsurprisingly, Perez filed for free-agency in October, indicating he would like to test the market.

With the wily Scott Boras as his agent, Perez is likely to command a large sum of money. It is believed that Boras wants a deal for Perez similar to the one that Carlos Silva signed last offseason.

Silva signed a four-year, $48 million contract with the Mariners. The Mets have expressed that they have no interest in retaining Perez for longer than three years.

The Mets should let Perez and his league-leading 105 walks go elsewhere and collect the two draft picks they will receive due to Perez's status as a type-A free agent.


Open Slots

Assuming the Mets do not re-sign Perez, they have two spots open in their starting rotation. There are several options in free agency and the trade market that will be considered. I think Derek Lowe should be the top candidate to fill one of the positions.

Lowe is 35-years-old, but he has been nothing but consistent since coming to the Dodgers in 2005. In four years in Los Angeles, Lowe never had an ERA higher than 3.88.

The two biggest reasons for acquiring Lowe are that he throws strikes and eats innings. Since becoming a starter in 2002, Lowe has averaged 208 innings pitched and just 57 walks per season. Last season, Lowe walked just 45 batters. Oliver Perez reached that walk total on June 7.

The key to Lowe's success is his sinker, and this will likely allow him to continue competing at a high level into his early-40s. An important part of Lowe's resume is his postseason and September success.

Lowe was dominant in the midst of a pennant race in September 2008 when he recorded a 0.59 ERA. The 6'6" Lowe boasts a career postseason ERA of 3.35, and he won the clinching game of every series for the 2004 World Champion Red Sox.

There are several things the Mets could do to fill the fifth spot in their rotation. They could sign a free agent such as Jon Garland or Randy Wolf. They could also explore the trade market for a guy like Javier Vazquez, who holds an expensive contract that the White Sox would like to unload.

The Mets could also look to within their system to fill the final slot in their rotation. Top pitching prospect Jonathan Niese could be given a chance to pitch a full year in the majors.

Jason Vargas, a former Marlins prospect, who has pitched very well in the Arizona Fall League, could compete with Niese for the job in Spring Training.

The top priority for the Mets this season will be pitching. A solid rotation that goes deep into games will only help the bullpen. Up next, I take a look at the offseason outlook for the Mets' bullpen.


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