Free Agents: Work with Supply
After analyzing the potential free-agents, it appears that the market is not a favorable option for fulfilling the Mets’ needs. As a result, there are three considerations:
1. Actively pursue a trade or trades;
2. Look within the organization; or,
3. Work with what the market offers.
Actually, there is a third option: all of the above. Which is what the Mets will likely do — and this isn’t exactly a newsflash or original thought.
However, there are some issues with the first two considerations, which we’ll get to. First, let’s re-evaluate the major issues in re-tooling the Mets.
Corner Outfielder (?)
Note: the above IS in a particular order. As of November, the Mets will not have a catcher on their roster — all four of their 2007 backstops will be free-agents. That said, I’d hope that finding a catcher is the highest on the list of Omar’s priorities. As Casey Stengel said after making Hobie Landrith the first Mets’ expansion pick in 1962: “You gotta have a catcher or you’re gonna have a lot of passed balls.” Because the Mets’ bullpen was particularly awful, and their game plan is directly dependent on the bullpen, finding quality relievers is a high priority. Second base is an issue if Luis Castillo is not re-signed, though Ruben Gotay is an in-house option. With Pedro and El Duque somewhat questionable due to health concerns, picking up a starter has importance. A corner outfielder could be needed if the Mets are looking to move Lastings Milledge for an arm, and/or Moises Alou doesn’t return, and/or they’re not convinced Milledge is ready to be a full-time starter.
After evaluating the free-agent position players, relief pitchers, and starting pitchers, we’ve seen that there is a dearth of catching, second basemen, and relief pitchers — all Mets needs. So it may be wise to re-sign LoDuca and Castillo. Sure, there’s always the trade route, but how many chips do the Mets have to offer? And who is out there who might be a) available, and b) attainable with those chips? I doubt that the Rangers would trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Gerald Laird in return for Guillermo Mota, for example — and probably not even for a package of Mike Pelfrey and Lastings Milledge. Other than Milledge, Pelfrey, Philip Humber, and maybe Kevin Mulvey, who do the Mets have to offer in a trade that has any kind of value? Realistically, I mean — it’s not like anyone’s interested in Carlos Delgado’s declining skills and $20M cost commitment, and it’s safe to say the “nucleus” — Beltran, Reyes, Wright, Maine, Perez, Pedro — are staying put. And I’m not sure you want to trade Aaron Heilman, Pedro Feliciano, or Billy Wagner, considering that the bullpen is already a disaster.
That said, maybe it makes sense to work with what the market offers, rather than looking to fill needs — and then adjusting as necessary.
For example, the one place where we see plenty of names is in the supply of free-agent starting pitchers. As we’ve discussed, most are question marks for one reason or another, so there is a bit of a risk involved. However, consider the risk of bringing in, say, Jon Lieber or Bartolo Colon to be a back-end starter, compared to signing Jorge Julio or Antonio Alfonseca to handle seventh inning duties. Or, gambling on Jason Jennings to be a #3 starter compared to hoping 39-year-old Russ Springer can have another career year?
There is depth in the starting pitching availability. From this vantage point, it makes sense to sign one or two “non-questions” such as Carlos Silva and/or Livan Hernandez, as well as considering the aforementioned Lieber and Colon, and looking to them to eat innings as starters. All of the four have been 7-inning pitchers in the past, and if you can’t find quality relievers to pitch the sixth and seventh, why not try to fill those innings from the front end — from the starters?
Of course, part of this plan would require Willie Randolph to change his thinking about the 100-pitch count. Livan and Lieber have pushed past 115-125 consistently in the past, so there’s reason to believe they can continue that workload. Signing two or three starters could create a surplus, in which case you move one (or more) of the current starters to the bullpen. Candidate number one is Mike Pelfrey, who is essentially a two-pitch pitcher whose sinker is ideal for a relief role. Philip Humber could be another Adam Wainwright, and help the Mets out of the ‘pen for a year before moving full-time into a starting role (isn’t that what was supposed to happen with Aaron Heilman?). Maybe El Duque becomes a spot starter and occasional middle man.
After deciding on a catcher, the Mets’ biggest concern — by far — is what to do with the bullpen. Free agency doesn’t appear to offer much “relief” (pun intended), unless the Mets are willing to overpay for a closer (Francisco Cordero) and that pitcher is willing to be a setup man. Similarly, with everyone in MLB looking for bullpen help, it’s doubtful a team would trade away a reliable reliever — and if they did, the package would likely be steep. So the best idea may be to work with the strength of the market, rather than fight against its weakness. Grab some healthy starters, gamble on a few not-so-healthy starters, and be willing to shift some roles.