Another year, another Mets collapse. The 2006 and 2007 seasons have not been kind to Mets fans as teams supposedly primed for World Series runs simply pulled up lame before reaching the finish line. Since I’m admittedly more of a baseball geek than a “Mets Geek” and have not truly bled blue and orange since my youth, I was able to avoid drowning my sorrows in a bottle of Evan Williams and instead spent the past evenings contemplating what went wrong and where the Mets should go from here. While neither of these questions have definitive answers, I am confident in telling Mets fans that all is not lost. Hopefully reading this will help put things into perspective and show that the Mets window of opportunity is still wide open based on the current roster even if the Mets do not undergo wholesale changes as some are suggesting.
Projected 2009 Lineup (As of Right Now, Best Case Scenario)
1. Jose Reyes, SS
3. David Wright, 3B
4. Carlos Beltran, CF
5. Carlos Delgado, 1B
7. Daniel Murphy, 2B/LF
8. Brian Schneider, C
Assuming they pick up Delgado’s option, this lineup reflects each player hitting in in a spot which allows them to be at least major average if not better. Is there any doubt this team should be a playoff team with enough talent to reach the World Series, if not win it? Let’s be honest. It’s a damn good 75% of a starting eight. Murphy as an option in either left field or second base allows the Mets the flexibility to sign two outfielders, or a second basemen and outfielder. Keeping Church as a fourth outfielder adds depth, and Mets fans will certainly cross their collective fingers in the hope Castillo is not back in 2009. Castro, Chavez, and Co. are serviceable off the bench where not much turnover is needed.
Options Outside the Organization
Bobby Abreu, OF: .290/.370/.460 and 20 stolen bases would fit nicely in the two spot. Would he be willing to move across town and back into the NL East to wreak havoc on the Phillies nineteen times per season?
Rocco Baldelli, OF: Oft-injured, but a lifetime .281/.325/.445 when able to play, a move to left may help to keep him healthy. At 27, he could be a low risk/high reward option and a bargain through his prime.
Milton Bradley, OF: Only 30, it seems as if Bradley has been around forever. A likely bet for .310/.415/.550, he’s one of the best hitters in baseball if he can only log enough games to warrant being counted on. He would be a less expensive option than Abreu in the two hole and will sign for less because of injury concerns.
Pat Burrell, LF: Similar to Dunn, he can be counted on to chip in a line of .255/.385/.500 and can likely be had for less years and cash than Dunn will require. What better way to beat the Phillies than to take one of their big bats.
Adam Dunn, LF: At 29, Dunn is what he is. A .245/.385/.520 who would fit in this scenario as an all or nothing six hole hitter capable of picking up the slack when the streaky Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado struggle.
Orlando Hudson, 2B: One of surest players at second base, Hudson plays gold glove caliber defense and is a sure bet for .295/.370/.450. He would fit nicely in the two hole.
Raul Ibanez, LF: With nearly two identical seasons of .290/.355/.480, he’s not a perfect fit in either the two or six hole, but his ability to drive in big runs would be a welcome addition. The Mets should have dealt for him at the deadline.
Manny Ramirez, LF: Arguably the best hitter of the past fifteen years, Ramirez has set himself up for one more big contract after carrying the Dodgers to the playoffs with a .396/.489/.743 line. His addition would force Beltran and Delgado down a spot in the order.
Sleepers: Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Rivera, Ray Durham
Wild Cards: Ichiro may be available via trade. Andruw Jones for Luis Castillo straight up? Each has 18 million in money due to them.
Projected Pitching Staff (As of Right Now, Best Case Scenario)
SP1 - Johan Santana
SP2 - FA/Trade
SP3 - John Maine
SP4 - Mike Pelfrey
SP5 - Aaron Heilman
RP - Scott Schoeneweis
RP - Pedro Feliciano
RP - Joe Smith
RP - Eddie Kunz
SU - FA/Trade
CL - FA/Trade
The addition of a 200+ inning workhorse will be key for the success of the rotation. Maine will hopefully be back at full strength. Pelfrey will enter the season as a pitcher who could quickly rise through the National League starting pitcher ranks. Heilman is in the rotation because I’ll never agree to selling low on a player with talent. Niese will likely break spring training in the rotation, but I would play it safe with him as the Mets are really in no need to rush him.
As for the pen, I’m comfortable with all four pitchers listed, but concede a major upgrade in the eighth and ninth is needed. While throwing a pot of gold at K-Rod would be both an overreaction and mistake, the Mets obviously need to do something.
Options Outside the Organization
Derek Lowe: One of the most underrated starters in the game, he’s a lock for 200+ innings and an ERA under four. He still has a few years left in the tank to boot.
C.C. Sabathia: Arguably the gem of the 2009 free agent class, He will command an enormous sum. However, with his being the true definition of a workhorse, his addition would instantly make a C.C./Johan combination the premiere 1-2 punch in baseball.
Of the other available free agent starters, I do not trust any of them to remain healthy through the life of a long-term deal. With starting pitching options being limited, the Mets will have to act quickly and lock one of these pitchers up.
Juan Cruz: By finishing the 2008 campaign with a 2.61 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, Cruz would be a nice fit in an eighth inning role with the Mets.
Brian Fuentes: With similar peripherals to K-Rod and half the saves, Fuentes could be signed for less than half the cost. At 33, he has a few seasons left in the tank and and could likely be had for three years and $30 million instead of the $75 to $90 million K-Rod would cost.
Trevor Hoffman: Arguably the greatest closer in the history of baseball, Hoffman and his 554 saves would serve a two-fold purpose for the Mets. One, he could close for a year. Two, he could mentor either Joe Smith or Eddie Kunz for the closer spot in 2010. Hoffman has had a remarkable career, but a World Series ring has eluded him.
Kerry Wood: A successful conversion to closer has Wood in line to close either in Chicago or with another franchise. His peripherals were solid, and his arm remained healthy putting him in line for a multi-year deal. He’s another risk/reward play, but he’s another closer who won’t be able to demand more than a two-or-three-year pact.
Brandon Lyon: An interesting option in that he closed in 2008, but was better as a set up man in 2007, Lyon’s versatility and his being just 28 make him a relatively safe long-term play. He’s not an exciting choice, but he would be a great fit as a setup man and emergency closer.
In all, the Mets have about $30 million coming off the books with the team picking up Delgado’s option. With a new stadium and additional revenue, let’s assume they can sink $30 to $45 million into signing free agents without making any trades. In choosing from the above options, and projecting contract terms based on value and comparable players, my 2009 Mets additions would be as follows.
Pat Burrell: three years, $36 million
Trevor Hoffman: one year, $6 million
Orlando Hudson: three years, $21 million
Derek Lowe: three years, $36 million
Brandon Lyon: four years, $20 million
Total: $42 million
This group of players complements the Mets roster well on many levels. Hudson—and his phenomenal defense—instantly improves the entire staff. Lowe’s sinker and workhorse mentality help take pressure off the rest of a fragile rotation. Burrell settles into the number six hole and spends the next three seasons doing his damage for the Mets and not to them. He also instantly shifts the balance of power in the NL East back to the Mets by simply subtracting his bat from the Phils. Lyon sets up Hoffman and provides a solid second option should Hoffman need a day off here and there because of his advanced age. Hoffman in turn mentors Smith/Kunz and prepares one of them to be the long-term answer in New York. It’s not a romantic group, but the Mets need to spend money responsibly and in a way that helps bridge the current Mets team with the future of the franchise. Just look across town for an example of what happens when a franchise throws unlimited amounts of money at a roster. Follow the Red Sox blueprint of responsible spending and player development and the Mets will be the team to beat in the east for years to come.
Now that you’ve read my take on things, can you improve on it? What combination of players would you like to see the Mets sign within similar salary restraints?