The Mets Makeover
Earlier this week, Mets owner Jeff Wilpon suggested that the Mets’ roster would undergo a makeover:
“I think we’re gonna be active in trying to remake our roster. I think I said at a time that I wanna be uh, some addition by subtraction, and I think that will happen. Whether that happens by free agency or more to the fact from some trades.”
Before you hope “addition by subtraction” means dumping Aaron Heilman, Luis Castillo, and most of the bullpen, understand that the Mets do not have a very good history of dumping salaries — further, their history is littered with trading players when their value is lowest. The organization as it is currently constructed cannot move forward by continuing this ugly tradition — there are too few trading chips available to make deals simply to rid the roster of underperforming veterans. With so little help coming from the farm system, every deal made has to have a positive impact on the 25-man roster.
Simple economics — buy low, sell high — is similar if not identical to baseball operations. And the Mets have a lot of “lows” right now, which suggests the best plan is to hold onto those lows and hope they gain value again. The time to trade guys is not after they’ve stunk up the joint, but before.
In order to dump Castillo, the Mets are likely going to have to eat some of his salary, include someone valuable in the deal, and/or take on a similarly awful contract. I can’t wait to see the creativity Omar Minaya shows in pulling this off without further hamstringing the roster — though most fans are confident he can do it. But guess what? No one wants Castillo — not even for free. The Mets will have to take on someone else’s garbage — think: Juan Pierre and his FOUR-year contract. Not to mention that the Mets will then have a huge hole at second base, where Dan Murphy doesn’t fit and Argenis Reyes doesn’t project as an everyday player. If the Mets are able to bring in Orlando Hudson for something other than an astronomical contract, great, but if they don’t, who are the alternatives? Mark Grudzielanek? Ray Durham? Felipe Lopez? Nick Punto? Suddenly, holding on to Castillo doesn’t seem so bad.
Similarly, trading Aaron Heilman makes little sense, as he is still affordable and under control, young enough to make a comeback, but won’t return nearly his value in a trade. Remember Heath Bell? Matt Lindstrom? Dan Wheeler? Paul Wilson? Jason Isringhausen? Paul Byrd? All were pitchers with talent, coming off an underperforming season, but still very cheap and young enough to turn things around. But the Mets gave each of them away for garbage, only to see them prosper elsewhere.
So who do the Mets trade? Looking up and down the roster, there isn’t much of value to other teams. And that’s a major problem — nearly every player in the organization has more value to the Mets than to any other team. For example, even though Mets fans think Dan Murphy is the second coming of Wade Boggs, the fact is, other teams are not sold on Murphy’s first 130 at-bats as an indication of his future. Likewise, you won’t find anyone not affiliated with the Mets who thinks Jon Niese is the next Sandy Koufax, or that Bobby Parnell is a can’t-miss. These are the Mets’ three best young trade chips, but it would take all three of them in one deal to land a decent Major League veteran. Not an All-Star. Which is why I think it’s hilarious that a poll on MetsBlog asked “would you trade Niese or Parnell and Murphy for Jake Peavy”? Are you kidding? In a second! Yet astoundingly, 41% of respondents said “no”. The joke, of course, is that all three of those young men would be a START in trading negotiations. It would likely take someone along the lines of John Maine or Ryan Church to be included with them for the Padres to answer the phone.
So again, who are the trading chips? (Funny, we were asking the same question this time last year!) Will the Mets pick up Carlos Delgado’s option and then trade him? Probably not, as a replacement would be very expensive (Mark Teixeira) or underwhelming (Nick Evans, Kevin Millar). Wright, Reyes, and Santana are going nowhere. If John Maine was available, he also would be undervalued due to his shoulder injury. I already proposed Beltran in a deal and was nearly lynched for it. Ryan Church has some value, but again, his health is a question mark — dealing him for equal value would be more difficult than when the Mets had Mike Cameron on the block. Same with Ramon Castro, who has battled injuries as a second-stringer for three years. Brian Schneider won’t bring back much, and the Mets don’t have anyone to replace him.
It seems the only place the Mets might be able to subtract from is the bullpen. Again, though, they’d be selling low. Maybe Pedro Feliciano and Scott Schoeneweis have some value as lefthanded specialists, but are they really that much better than any LOOGYs that are available via free agency? Joe Smith is the best chip the Mets have, but it wouldn’t make sense to deal away arguably their best reliever — especially when he’s only 24 and under control for several more years. You want to dump Duaner Sanchez? Great, but there we are again with the health issues — a team would expect to get him for a bargain.
You can argue that putting together a package of these underperformers can bring back something of value. Maybe, but it’s doubtful. If you were an opposing GM, what would you offer in return for Scott Schoeneweis, Aaron Heilman, and Duaner Sanchez? A borderline second base prospect toiling in AA?
Still, Jeff Wilpon is right — there WILL be a remake of the roster. But that’s because half the team will be leaving via free agency. Here’s the list of potential free agents:
I left Delgado off the list because it’s all but a certainty he returns. I’m not sure about Brian Stokes, Robinson Cancel, Gus Molina, Angel Pagan and some others who may be eligible for arbitration. You can laugh about most of the men on this list, but there’s 16 players there who were on the 25-man roster at some point. Subtract Ambiorix Burgos from the organization, for obvious reasons. Again, it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but Burgos was a young relief pitcher with MLB closing experience and a 97+MPH fastball — something the Mets would seem to covet right now. With Burgos in jail, the Mets need to find a young fireballer to take his place. Can they get one in return for Scott Schoeneweis? Doubtful.
How many of those free agents (and arbitration-eligible players) the Mets keep will be interesting to follow. Does “subtraction” mean Ollie Perez walks? Pedro wanders away? Damion Easley takes a hike? Would those subtractions equal addition?
It’s going to be a long, fascinating winter. We’ll watch and discuss every move here.