Will the Mets Deal for a Starter?
NOTE: This is a guest post by longtime Mets beat writer John Delcos. Please direct your comments to John. Enjoy!
The Mets’ June cruise has not only made them relevant in the National League pennant races, but subsequently also at the July 31 trade deadline.
With management believing this is no fluke and the Mets will continue to play alert, aggressive baseball, there are serious discussions not whether they should trade, but whom to trade for – and just as important, whom they should not trade.
Their interest, despite this remarkable run by the rotation, must remain pitching. First rotation; second bullpen.
There is a sense of calm derived from how well Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey have pitched, and a feeling of optimism with Jon Niese’s run since coming off the disabled list.
Slots four and five are a house of cards.
R.A. Dickey, despite being sterling since coming up from Triple A, is sailing unchartered waters. There’s every reason to think, until he does this for another six weeks or so, that the magic dust might be blown off that dancing knuckler.
Afterall, the Mets have these few starts as a frame of reference, not a lengthy resume.
Hisanori Takahashi is pitching well overall, but has shown some cracks. Plus, he’s better suited for the bullpen, which, as a side note is getting a much deserved break during this stretch after being run into the ground in April and May.
And, seriously, who is really counting on John Maine and Oliver Perez? I mean, beside their mothers?
There are two names out there that stand out like neon on a dark night: Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee.
Either would look good in Met pinstripes. Because of the length of his contract (through 2012 with the option) the Astros don’t have to trade Oswalt. Consequently, he carries more value to the Astros to the Astros than Lee does to Seattle.
Because the Astros hold some leverage, he’ll cost the Mets a lofty price in prospects, plus the $39 million remaining on his contract if they pick up the club option.
Lee, however, will cost only prospects and the balance of his $8 million contract. Lee, however, has repeatedly said he wants to test the market, and reportedly that could mean as much as $23 million, which is Santana and CC Sabathia-type money.
Do the Mets really want to pay that much? I’m thinking no, even if it means draft choices in return.
However, reportedly the Mets are more interested in Lee than Oswalt, and depending on the prospects demanded, could opt for the rental.
For prospects – and they can’t all be high end if the Mets accept Lee moves – for a chance at October is worth it.
Seattle wants young pitching in return, which means either Niese or Jenrry Mejia. Both are too important to give up for a rental, plus if the Mets are thinking they could contend, dealing Niese for pitching makes no sense because they would still need to add a pitcher.
They aren’t going to trade a promising lefthander who already has tasted success and comes on the cheap for somebody who’ll be at LaGuardia moments after the season ends.
There are other intriguing options, such as Arizona’s Dan Haren, who’ll cost prospects and the balance of his contract, which is in the second year of a four-year (plus 2013 option) for $44.75 million package.
Other options to explore are Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook, or Oakland’s Ben Sheets. Oswalt and Lee are better, but far more costly, especially if the latter bolts.
As much as I believe Mejia should be in the minors learning to be a starter, I wouldn’t want to deal him for Lee unless I could sign him. I would be more willing to deal him for Oswalt or Haren, pitchers who figure to be here for several years.
In the end, I’m figuring the Mets to pursue Lee but eventually settle for a second tier arm.
I think they’ll keep both Niese and Mejia, but might have to deal from this group: Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole, Dillon Gee and Fernando Martinez.
Somebody good will have to go.
John Delcos has covered Major League Baseball for over 20 years, including more than ten in New York on the Yankees and Mets beats. You can read Delcos on his blog, New York Mets Report, where he hosts a chat room for each Mets game.
And I'm obssessed with Danny Haren, thanks for including him in, though I imagine you, like me, realize that that is a trade more complex than even Lee. Also, I hope Minaya doesn't listen to me about Haren cuz I was crazy for Dontrelle Willis a few years ago and begged the Mets to get him. Thanks for not listening to me on that note!
What makes the hot stove conversation so much more productive this past week was watching two of the Mets' potential deadline targets – Kevin Millwood and Jake Westbrook – pitch against us. And seeing as how both were left wiping the floor after the Mets got done with them, I don't know how anyone can justify pulling the trigger on a trade for either, or anyone else of their caliber, when they're obviously being outperformed by Dickey and Takahashi, and are fairing no better than what John Maine could provide if healthy. Millwood was all the rage prior to his start against the Mets last weekend; I haven't heard a peep about him since. I suspect the same for Westbrook. Neither should be on the Mets' radar if we are serious about significantly upgrading the team's chances of making the playoffs and succeeding in it.
As for Lee and Oswalt, the conjecture surrounding the likelihood of their inclusion in a future trade, and how much it may or may not take to get them, is making my head spin. As far as I'm concerned, Cliff Lee should not even be a consideration. The Mariners want Jon Niese and several prospects for him, and the odds of Lee leaving via free agency are too great to give up such a hefty package – even if Lee helps the Mets get to the postseason. Because we have to remember, there are more seasons than just 2010 down the road. Life does not end after 2010. And to go for absolute broke in 2010 without worrying about the future is haphazard and irresponsible. Talk about draft picks all you want, but I'd rather hold on to FMart and Mejia than replace them with 2 draft picks because we already know what we have in FMart and Mejia, and they're both right on the cusp of contributing at the major league level, while the draft picks will be a crap shoot and will likely be 3-4 years away from being of any help in the majors.
As for Oswalt, it's going to be up to the Mets as to whether they think they can afford taking on his salary, as well as giving up a healthy package of prospects to acquire him from Houston. I'm not denying he would slot in great into the top of the rotation with Johan and Pelfrey for the next 2 1/2 seasons. But will he be worth what it takes to get him? Can the Mets find a #3 who won't take such a toll on their payroll or their farm system? It all depends on what Houston is asking for, I suppose, how desperate they are to shed his contract, and just how popular Oswalt will be as the trade deadline approaches.
Look Lee would be silly to get if the price is Niese, that much is clear, and a rental for Mejia, no matter who it is, is just as silly. The talk from the Mets is that they are putting a premium on home grown talent. This is a good thing. They will not do a Lee trade without a contract in place.
Oswalt is more intriguing to me because he is under contract for another two season, but why would the Astros give up their biggest draw for a salary dump? They would only do it for prospects and money, but not either alone. They have shown no willingness to part with Oswalt in the past, and would have to get blown away to do anything.
This is why I am still arguing for Westbrooke or Millwood. Yes 'dude, I was pining for Millwood prior to his start against the Mets, and I haven't said anything since, but that is because my argument does not change; if you can get Millwood or Westbrooke or Sheets for a pittance, you do that because they are better than Takahashi and maybe Dickey. I really think (Millwood and Westbrooke especially) are being effected by the bad team around them. We all have seen Millwood perform in the clutch in the past, so why throw out that track record because of one bad start against a hot Mets team? That is near sighted to think that these guys are not as good as Dickey or Takahashi. Really to me it is about getting Takahashi back in the pen and taking pressure off Dickey so that both can perform and maximize their contributions. Adding one of the second tier pitchers for a B level prospect or two is worth it if you believe this team can win in September. I am a believer right now.
And then what is the definition of pittance, and why would the Orioles or Indians want such rubbish? Will another team be more desperate and pony up better prospects for Millwood or Westbrook? If so, do the Mets counter suit? I guess I just don't see either pitcher making enough of a difference to the 2010 team to pursue the matter. They'll likely give the Mets innings, but what else? The ability to give up 5 runs a game? To save the bullpen once every 5 days? To provide a veteran voice in the clubhouse? I'm just not seeing their usefulness in upgrading the Mets from a pretender to a contender.
But… Jerry has thrown Maine under the bus and the Mets talking points seem to indicate that fans are being setup for accepting Takahashi as a starter.