3:16 pm Dec. 6, 2011
So Jose Reyes is a Marlin, and the 2012 Mets payroll keeps shrinking, with general manager Sandy Alderson acknowledging that he only has around $10-15 million to spend on new acquisitions, even without the outlay of cash to the former Met shortstop.
The organization's finances are a mess, meaning that the only question now is whether Alderson can somehow build a decent club by making cheap additions to the unintimidating roster he currently has to work with.
After all, Alderson, the former general manager of the Oakland A's, has a proven track record of accomplishing a lot with meager resources (though it bears noting that he did his winning in Oakland when he spent money on stars like Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco).
The answer, unfortunately, is that he probably can't. Consider that the Mets have three piles of players: the guaranteed contract players (veterans signed to guaranteed deals), the league-minimum players (young players not yet eligible for arbitration, whom the Mets can pay whatever they want), and the remaining, amorphous, players to be acquired.
The eight veterans are: Johan Santana, David Wright, Jason Bay, R.A. Dickey, D.J. Carrasco, Tim Byrdak, Mike Pelfrey and Angel Pagan. The first six are already signed. Pelfrey and Pagan are likely to return, though the Mets could theoretically non-tender each. The total price tag on these eight players: around $70 million. That’s three starting pitchers (Santana, Dickey, Pelfrey), a third baseman (Wright), a left fielder (Bay), a center fielder (Pagan) and two relievers (Byrdak and Carrasco).
Then they’ve got the nine league-minimum players: Daniel Murphy, Jon Niese, Ruben Tejada, Bobby Parnell, Ike Davis, Dillon Gee, Pedro Beato, Josh Thole and Lucas Duda. For around $4.5 million, that's a second baseman (Murphy), first baseman (Davis), shortstop (Tejada), right fielder (Duda), catcher (Thole), two starting pitchers (Niese, Gee) and two relievers (Parnell, Beato).
What remains for that $10-15 million, then, is eight roster spots. That’s roughly three relievers, two backup outfielders, a backup catcher, a backup infielder and another bench player or reliever.
For the math to make any sense, then, the Mets need to be extremely active in Thursday morning’s Rule 5 Draft. In short, here’s how that draft works: minor leaguers who have been property of a team for several years (how long varies depending on age) but not placed on a team’s 40-man roster can be selected by another team. They cost $50,000. The selecting team needs to keep that player on the major league roster all year. Otherwise, they need to offer that player back to his original team for $25,000.
The Mets took two such players last year: Brad Emaus, who flamed out, and Pedro Beato, who did a serviceable job as a reliever.
Some possible Rule 5 picks for the Mets this year include Pat Venditte (who currently plays for the Yankees), Justin Henry (Tigers) and Brandon Sisk (Royals).
In Sisk, the Mets could acquire a solid second lefty out of the pen with terrific strikeout and walk rates at Triple-A last year. Justin Henry can hit, is selective, and provides a backup at all three outfield positions.
And Venditte is probably the best fit of all—a switch-pitcher who alternates between throwing righty and lefty depending on the batter. Only a concern about how his stuff will play at the major league level has kept him from getting a chance with the Yankees. But the Mets need to roll the dice, and the level of interest in Venditte could help them sell tickets.
That leaves five spots—catcher, outfielder, infielder, reliever, and another bench player or reliever—and $8.5-$13.5 million to spend. What can they get for that?
Kelly Shoppach, a free agent catcher most recently with the Rays, has power, patience, good catching skills, and a career .909 OPS against lefties. He would make a decent counterweight to Josh Thole, who struggles against lefties and has no power whatsoever. He'd probably cost around $2 million on a one-year deal.
Next up: former Met Endy Chavez, who played last season for the Rangers. He provides a backup at all three outfield positions, he proved he was healthy last year, and he’ll probably cost around $1.5 million for a one-year contract. The good vibes from his magical snow-cone catch are badly needed, too.
That leaves $5-$10 million left, and three players. Most of this should be spent on a closer. Chances are, Frank Francisco (who played most recently for the Blue Jays) is available for a 1-2 year deal at around $4 million per season. He strikes out plenty of hitters, and should be perfectly respectable in the role.
Two to go, and just $1-6 million left. And you can probably bank on it being closer to one than six. One of these two should be a middle infielder—possible non-tender candidates include Mike Fontenot of the Cubs and Wilson Valdez of the Phillies (and before that, the Mets), depending on whether you want offensive upside or defensive certainty—and the other might be reliever Todd Coffey or infielder Ian Stewart.
Coffey, who played last season in Washington, is already a free agent, and would inspire the Citi Field crowd with his bullpen entrance. And Ian Stewart, a Colorado prospect who faltered, is a high-upside non-tender candidate who could potentially replace David Wright at a fraction of Wright’s cost.
And why talk about replacing David Wright? Because even if the Mets get every player they're going after with the money available to them, the result is still quite likely to be a team that struggles, again, to win 80 games. (They finished last year at 77-85.)
Sentiment aside, the best thing Alderson can do for the Mets is to put them on a footing to be competitive in the future, perhaps when the team comes to be owned, one way or another, by a group whose financial woes aren't visited on the roster. To keep Wright around in the meantime wouldn't just be counterproductive; it would be cruel.