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:

Johan Santana
C.C. Sabathia
Mike Pelfrey
John Maine
Jon Niese / Aaron Heilman

Brian Fuentes
Duaner Sanchez
Juan Cruz
Joe Smith
Eddie Kunz
Brant Rustich
Dennys Reyes
Pedro Feliciano

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?

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Schmidtxc October 2, 2008 at 2:13 pm
    I think it’s definately possible to both commit to youth and attempt to build around the pieces already in place. The key would be to add the right pieces. As of now the mets have a good young core of starters with santana, maine, and pelfrey. I think jon niese will be a nice piece, but he probably needs more time at AAA. It probably wouldn’t hurt to talk extension with maine this season, since he’s now arbitration eligible. CC would be a great piece to add, no doubt about it. I would also like to see him here before the mets go out and break the bank for krod, but who knows where the bidding for him will go. The last two real big name lefties to hit the market at that age (hampton and Zito) both got ridiculous years and money, and I could really see someone offering cc 25 million per year. Thats a pretty big commitment. I’d love to see ollie resign if the market for him is smaller than expected (see kyle loshe last year), but not at 12+ million per year. If we didn’t have johan, I’d be all for this. I just don’t think it’s the best way to use resources for this team. Guys like derek lowe will be pretty safe investments, and shouldn’t need more than 3 years which will get them out of the way when the next wave of homegrown starters is ready. Besides jon niese, there isn’t anything close to major league ready on the farm.

    As far as delgado, his presence should allow evans and carp one more year of seasoning before we turn to them. This gives the front office some more time to evaluate what we have. I don’t think there is any rush to make these guys regulars…we’ll still be able to go to them in 2010 if they look ready. Left field I’m up in the air on…there are no options I really like in free agency this year if they require more than one year. I think it would be a huge mistake to push fmart to queens this early, he definately needs some more time in the minors. There is no reason to ruin this kid throwing him way over his head into that kind of pressure. I think having murph at second is a great thought, even if his glove is a little shaky. He’s a hard working kid, and givin some time he’ll be all right.

  2. isuzudude October 2, 2008 at 2:57 pm
    I don’t know where Schmidt was hiding all year, but damn this guy (or gal?) is on my wavelength! I agree with everything here. It’s not as if the Mets only have 2 options this year, being 1) tear down and rebuild, or 2) sign nothing but 35+ year old vets and continue to be a “just a player short” team. The trick is mastering the balancing act of just the right mix of vets with youth; big salaries and small salaries. I think a good plan would be, for every free agent you lose, replace half with free agency and half with in-house solutions. That way you keep the payroll in check while making sure you stay young while still having a veteran presence. So, for example, Perez and Pedro walk this winter, replace them with Niese and Lowe. So on and so forth. I know it’s not quite that cut and dry, but it re-inforces the notion of addressing the current needs of the team while keeping the future in mind.
  3. joe October 2, 2008 at 8:26 pm
    I think the Mets absolutely have to, and will, make a commitment one way or the other. I base this on past history.

    If they continue down the recent path of “postseason or bust”, then the team compares to the 2001-2003 teams, and the 1989-early 1990s teams — teams that believed they were just a piece or two away from a championship, and sent away homegrown talent to “win now”. And looking at what happened in 2008, the front office will build a team just good enough to maybe make the postseason, but not make that final, necessary commitment to push the team in (i.e., make a trade for Manny).

    I’d much rather the Mets say, “hey, we’re going to build for the future, and if we make the playoffs, great, but it’s not the focus for 2009”. Then I’d be OK with not sending away “untouchables” for Sabathia / Bay / Manny / etc., and I’d understand. But we were given every indication that the Mets were going to “go for it” in 2008 — only to take the pedal off the gas when it came down to making a key acquisition. The trade of Lastings Milledge, specifically, was publicly explained as the Mets needing to “win now”, and the Johan deal confirmed it. Then, when the team is in the thick of the pennant race and clearly in need of one or two last pieces, they do nothing — claiming they can’t trade away the future!

    Screw the idea of bidding for has-beens like Lowe … he’s going to be overvalued anyway. Let Delgado walk. Gather up #1 and #2 picks as the FAs walk away. Save up the dough for one or two really smart signings that help the team now and for the next 4 years — such as for Sabathia.

    There’s going to be a tear down whether you like it or not — half the rotation will be gone, the bullpen needs an overhaul, the team needs a new closer, and there are question marks at left field, second base, and possibly behind the plate. Commit to getting younger now, spend money on Sabathia, consider trading a veteran or two for a package of youngsters, and you’ll have a team that will compete in 2009 and be positioned to be a power for the next 3-4 years.

  4. isuzudude October 3, 2008 at 9:11 am
    Joe, with all due respect, I think you’re way off base here. You can’t say the Mets are going to continue to fill the team with patchwork players and base your opinion on past history when you cite examples from past general manager and ownership administrations. Omar does business different from his predecessors, as do the Wilpons. It’s like saying the country is going to vote Republican this November and I base that on the past 2 elections.

    I think it’s clear, with as much money the Wilpons are spending on the team in relation to the rest of baseball, that they will not stand for a re-building era. And there’s no reason why the Mets can’t strive to win the World Series in 2009 while keeping future stars in the system.

    You say the Mets will make a commitment towards either rebuilding or going all out, but you also mention how Omar sent mixed messages by going out and getting Johan but then refusing to budge on trading other chips for bullpen help or an outfielder. So there has been no sign whatsoever that the Mets are leaning towards heading in either direction. If anything, all signs indicate that the team will continue to sign and trade for veterans they feel will help the team win, while keeping an eye on the future and holding on to the prospects (like Pelfrey, FMart, Reyes, Niese, Parnell, Wright, Heilman) they view as playing big parts in the Mets’ future. Are there ain’t a damn thing wrong with that.

    By the way, how is Derek Lowe a has-been? He’s won 12 games or more for 7 straight seasons with ERAs consistently in the mid-to-upper 3.00’s. He may be 35, but he’d be the only guy in the rotation over 30 next year (if Johan, Maine, Pelf, and Niese are the other 4), and he’s shown no signs whatsoever of slipping into mediocrity. He’s a proven winner on playoff teams and an innings-eater, which is something you were crying for the Mets to get this time last year to take the burden off the bullpen. He seems like an academic choice to be the Mets #3/4 starter next year, and wouldn’t require a contract that would come anywhere close to breaking the Mets bank.

    Do you really believe this is the time the Mets should consider re-building, or are you taking this position just to be different and creative?

  5. joe October 3, 2008 at 10:47 am
    I thought the Mets should have started a rebuilding process after 2004. So, yeah, I do believe they should do it now — they’re four years overdue.

    And what in the world are you talking about re: the Wilpons’ predecessors? The Wilpons were in charge of the team in those years I mentioned.

    The fact they “won’t stand for a rebuilding” is exactly the problem. They’ll throw good money after bad, to make sure the team “plays meaningful games in September”, rather than make the bold decisions that would put this team into October. They were bold enough to trade the farm for Santana, but then stopped short of sending one or two more away for Manny — the guy who would have pushed the team into the playoffs. This is what I mean by going all out, one way or the other.

    If the team eschews all other free agents — including their own — and spends only on Sabathia and a short-term closer, and commits to youth, the team will still be strong enough to match 2008, but be well positioned for 2010-2015. Rebuilding doesn’t have to mean losing — look at what the Twins did this year.

    I guess my point is that the Mets should commit to one way or the other, and stick to that commitment. Choosing between “win now” or “rebuild for long term but maybe sneak into the playoffs now”, I’ll take the latter.

    Bottom line – I don’t want these grand promises handed to me about “playing deep into October”, and then having the rug pulled out from under me. Instead, tell me the focus is on building a long-term winner, and if we make a run toward the postseason it’ll be a pleasant surprise rather than a feeling of entitlement.

  6. Micalpalyn October 3, 2008 at 11:50 am
    I disagree with Joe too.

    1. The rebuild WAS in 2004. Essentially the team was rebuilt around Reyes and Wright. pedro was a credibility signing. But In his first yr, omar had to divest of Matsui, Piazza, Looper and not to mention Leiter and Franco who did not see Spr tng. This yr the divest was of El duque, Pedro and a bad Moises gamble. The team notably did not sign Ollie to a long term contract last yr. I think Omar was looking to this yr all along.

    2. del will be picked up. Tex would be ok but I think Nick Evans (or Carp…or Murph) is the heir aparent.

    3. Every year omar has inserted new pieces. I think Millz’s loss was off set by Church with a view F-mart could fill RF. As such gomez and Millz were expendable. The next wave is already under the scope…Wilmer could play 2nd/3rd or SS. Ruben Tejada could push Jose, and Tony pena’s son could be the one who makes me forget Jesus Flores. I do think millz could have had a difference making yr.

    4. deadline: Omar made a huge statement at the deadline. Two yrs in a row he has NOT mortgaged the future. Yet i think Carp, Evans or Parnall would not have been missed.

    5. For next yr: Pitching. I disagree that Sabathia comes. Santana and Sabathia were threowing at each other this time last yr. 🙂
    as such I’d think Sheets or another righty makes sense. Brad Penny i think is possible…and u all know i strongly favor burnett. Oi think niese MIGHT start at AAA. but I think he stands a strong chance to be our 2nd lefty. I think Ollie and Santana are too similar in ‘stuff’.

    6. trades: I think there are a few. I would not discount a trade or (Murph?) for jon Sanchez. I think Schneider could go and Benji Molina or even Ivan Rodriguez come in. I think Fuentes is possible too. with ayala as a set up man. I think Duaner, sho and Heilman are gone.

  7. joe October 3, 2008 at 12:18 pm
    If 2004 was the rebuild then it was a lousy job, and certainly wasn’t focused on the long term. The team had one good year in 2006, then regressed. A good rebuild would see the team slowly improve, not get worse.

    Sabathia WON’T come, that’s my point. The Mets will spend $40M on a guy like Lowe, get maybe one or two years out of him, and have another bad contract the rest of the time.

    WHY DIDN’T Omar mortgage the future at the deadline? If you believe 2004 was the “rebuild”, and 2008 was the target, why not pull out every stop and get this team into October? THIS IS MY POINT!

    I would have had absolutely no problem with Omar trading away ALL three of Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, and F-Mart to get Manny or Jason Bay and a bullpen arm. If Dan Murphy had to be in the deal too, fine (in fact, they wouldn’t have had to give up that much, but I still would’ve been OK with it). The Mets kept saying they were committed to playing deep into October in 2008. They lied.

    It’s ironic you bring up LMillz. It was that trade explicitly that Omar explained as mortgaging the future for now.

    Had I known the Wilpons were going to switch gears mid-season, I would have been against the Santana trade and possibly the Milledge trade. It would have been more fun to watch Gomez, Humber, et al, blossom over the next few years, than see this overpriced group of veteran choke artists hobble through another collapse.

    I think you’re right about Bengie or Pudge coming in, as well as overpaying for Fuentes and installing Ayala as the setup man. I don’t know why they’d trade Sanchez and Heilman when they’re so cheap to keep and still young, but you’re probably right about that too. Jon Sanchez is not going to be available for what the Mets have to offer, but I’ve liked him for two years.

  8. Micalpalyn October 3, 2008 at 1:51 pm
    BS…The heath bell trade, the millz trade were about getting rid of players willie did not like.

    Again: nick evans, dan Murphy, Jon Niese and bob Parnall all have values 2 to 4 times that they had prior to the deadline. add heilman, dirty, Feliciano and other ‘kids’ Brad holt, dillon Gee and Kunz who did well two levels above where they were in Spr.

    Molina is being talked about (MLBrumors) as a salary dump candidate.

    Add me to the Orlando hudson brigade. Also i think the byrnes -castillo trade makes too much sense.

    Cheap: Rincon, Parnall, and Stokes are ‘cheap’ BP candidates to offset the expensive additions of Fuentes (3/30M) and ayala (2/8M). If ayala walks what do we net? Other set up guys include lyons and cruz.

  9. joe October 3, 2008 at 2:20 pm
    << BS…The heath bell trade, the millz trade were about getting rid of players willie did not like. >>

    what? First of all the Bell trade was two years ago and doesn’t apply. Secondly, Omar Minaya stated publicly that the Mets traded Milledge despite his future potential because they felt they needed to get players who could help them win right away.

    I can assure you that Randolph had very little say in the players who were put on “his” team. That was the crux of the power struggle between he and Bernazard. Why do you think Manuel is hesitating? He doesn’t want to get caught in the same situation as Randolph.

    Evans, Niese, and Parnell did nothing to increase their value from July — at least, not from the perspective of trade partners. I doubt Murphy has made any teams salivate, either — he’ll have to prove he can hit MLB pitching beyond 130 ABs, has shown no power, and doesn’t have a position. I love Dan Murphy but looking at him objectively, he isn’t anything more than a Shane Spencer flash in the pan right now.

  10. Micalpalyn October 3, 2008 at 9:56 pm
    The comment on murphy lines up with my thoughts. I dont think he is a 2nd baseman. some have him at 1st but i think evans is more viable there. Hence I think Murph could be at 3rd for some one else. For now I can see Evans as a 5th OF will time at 1st/3rd.

    Parnall I think will take heilman’s spot in the pen. Niese is the 5th/6th starter and a second lefty. I think an Odalis signing as a stop gap is possible.

    I am not buying the diatribe on Millz. No more so than omar stating the Mets will not be in the k-rod or Fuentes bidding.

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