Which Way Should the Mets Go?
The Mets are going into a new stadium in 2009, coming off two consecutive late-season collapses, just rewarded a three-year extension to GM Omar Minaya, and have a number of potential holes to fill up and down the roster. Is the time ripe to go into full-fledged rebuilding mode, or should they continue to patch up the team with aging veterans, to ensure the Mets will play “meaningful games in September”?
Based on the recent comments from Omar Minaya, it sounds like they’re going the patchwork route. Which is too bad, because it seems like a perfect time to get younger and build for the long term.
There is evidence of a “honeymoon effect”, which suggests that a brand-new baseball stadium will attract fans its merits alone, and regardless of the team’s on-field performance, at least for the first 2-3 years. This was proven in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, and Cincinnati, for example. While I don’t think Mets fans would be happy with a last-place team, I do think they’ll go to Citi Field in droves even if the Mets are struggling — so no worries about selling tickets in ’09. Further, I don’t think the Mets would have to worry about languishing in last place — there’s enough young talent that will keep them in the hunt.
As usual, everything depends on Carlos Delgado. If the Mets decide to pick up his option, then they’ll definitely fill holes with experienced (read: broken down) players and make a desperate attempt at the playoffs. If they let Delgado walk, all kinds of possibilities open up — most significantly, a dedication to youth.
Think about it … if the Mets drop Delgado and do NOT sign any of their free agents, this is what the roster looks like:
Starters: Johan Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey
Relievers: Scott Schoeneweis, Pedro Feliciano, Joe Smith, Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez
Catchers: Brian Schneider, Ramon Castro
1B: ? 2B: Luis Castillo SS: Jose Reyes 3B: David Wright
OF: Carlos Beltran, Ryan Church, Endy Chavez
I left out the youngsters on purpose, to show all the opportunities for them. Going with a youth movement, the Mets would be open to trading away Castillo, opening up 2B for, say, Daniel Murphy. Nick Evans and Mike Carp can be given a shot at 1B. In addition, Schneider and/or Castro could be dealt — which may not make sense unless they’re able to pull off a deal for someone like Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, or Matt Wieters. Impossible? Maybe, unless the Mets would go so far as to trade Carlos Beltran.
There, I said it. If the Mets were willing to go to a youth movement, it makes sense to trade Beltran, who will be 32 next year — an age when many players begin their decline. Since Beltran had a stellar 2008, and has “only” 3 years and $55M left on his monstrous contract, he would command a fruitful package of prospects. It would be the ultimate case of selling high, and it would make a lot of sense if the Mets were willing to look beyond 2009 — do we really believe Beltran will be an $19M player in 2010 and 2011? If there is a team that believes Beltran is the “final piece of the puzzle”, they might be willing to part with, say, a stud pitcher and a few stud position prospects who would be ready to blossom within the next three years. For example, the Red Sox could be willing to part with Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and a few high-ranked prospects who are currently unknowns. Maybe the Rangers would deal Teagarden, Saltalamacchia, or Max Ramirez, in addition to a few of the pitching jewels they have hidden in their farm. Perhaps the Tigers could be cajoled into giving up on Justin Verlander and some of their prospects. The Blue Jays could be silly enough to send away Alex Rios and Dustin McGowan. The Orioles probably wouldn’t trade Wieters, but owner Peter Angelos has done crazy things before … what if he decided to sign Mark Teixeira and make a full-blown effort to make the playoffs in 2009? Crazier things have happened.
Of course, the Mets won’t trade Beltran — I’m just throwing it out there for fun. Let’s get closer to reality.
Here is what an “updated” lineup , with the youth movement, might look like:
C Brian Schneider
1B Nick Evans / Mike Carp
2B Daniel Murphy
SS Jose Reyes
3B David Wright
LF Fernando Martinez
CF Carlos Beltran
RF Ryan Church
Would you have fun rooting for this team? I would. Certainly, I’d have no expectations, which would make a second place finish a satisfying season, rather than a crushing disappointment.
Better yet, check out this pitching staff:
Jon Niese / Aaron Heilman
Aha! there’s the punchline — the Mets get Sabathia. How? Why? Because by not re-signing Oliver Perez, Pedro Martinez, Delgado, Moises Alou, and Orlando Hernandez, and shedding the contracts of Schoeneweis and Castillo, there is PLENTY of money available to bid for the second-best lefthanded starter in MLB — and still have some left over to pick up Fuentes, Cruz, and Reyes for the bullpen. Though K-Rod is much younger than Fuentes, he’ll cost at least $75M — I’d rather spend that kind of dought on Sabathia, as I think K-Rod is an injury waiting to happen. Could be the same way with Sabathia, but I think a team whose rotation begins with Santana and Sabathia is in a much better position than a team with Santana and K-Rod. If today’s starters could be counted on for 7+ innings, I might feel differently, but it’s clear that getting from inning six to nine too much of a challenge. Building a bullpen around a lights-out closer is not a guarantee for success — and finding a strong closer is a lot easier than finding a front-of-the-rotation starter.
This projected rebuilding project doesn’t take into consideration players acquired in trades, so the team could look stronger. For example, perhaps the Castillo-Eric Byrnes deal is realistic, and the Mets would have someone to keep LF warm for F-Mart. But as presented, don’t you think the roster is strong enough to contend in ’09, be positioned for success for the next 3-4 years, and be a team that’s fun to watch?