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June 8, 2009

Prospectus Roundtable

Fixing the Mets

by Baseball Prospectus

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Matt Meyers of ESPN Insider: Welcome to our roundtable on the Mets' trade options. I've been commissioned to lead this conversation, and the plan is to have a back and forth regarding the Mets' trade options in the wake of the injuries to Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, and J.J. Putz, not to mention the disastrous performance of Oliver Perez.

In my opinion, the Mets should target a corner guy who can play first base for now, and then shift to left if/when Delgado comes back. The potential upgrades at shortstop (Jack Wilson, David Eckstein) aren't so much better than Alex Cora that they are worth paying a premium for in terms of prospects and salary. I think the Mets could probably swing a deal for Aubrey Huff without having to give up much from the farm, as long as they are willing to eat what is left of his $8 million salary. Huff would be a major upgrade over Dan Muprhy at first, and he's someone who could move to the outfield upon Delgado's return.

Will Carroll: I think that the Mets have a couple of interesting situations here. With Carlos Delgado gone for much of the season, and Jose Reyes out for a month, plus their existing weaknesses at second base and catcher, I think they have to do a couple things, but they could do them all with one team: Cleveland.

The ideal would be to get Mark DeRosa and Victor Martinez, but I don't think the Indians would give up Martinez lightly. That means they get DeRosa-who can play virtually ever position save for catcher-and then get Ryan Garko, who's stuck behind Hafner and Martinez at the DH/1B slot. Garko fills in at first base, then caddies once Delgado comes back. I don't think they have to give up much if they take on the salary-a couple of B-level prospects might do it.

A second possibility would be to try and pry Max Ramirez loose from Texas. Jon Daniels isn't going to give him up easily either, but he could play first base and then get in the mix at catcher if Minaya can come up with the deal.

As for the pen, I don't think they need to do anything. Bobby Parnell seems solid enough in the eighth, and if Jerry Manuel can't mix and match the seventh, he doesn't deserve the job. A lot of people are also ignoring the progress of Billy Wagner; he could be back in August or September and that would be a huge boost if he's anything resembling the Wagner of old.

Jay Jaffe: I agree with Will in that Cleveland has lots of parts which might be a fit, with DeRosa and Garko both seemingly realistic.

If I'm the Mets, throwing Livan Hernandez and Tim Redding out there in the same rotation cycle, I'd start to sniff around the Mariners' Erik Bedard and see what it would take to acquire him. Granted, he's fragile, but he's certain to be available this summer, and he's pitching about as well as he ever has been. Better him than-to go back to the Indians, who are roadkill waiting to be picked over by vultures-Carl Pavano, because Bedard misses more bats.

If the price of Bedard is too steep-and let's face it, the Mets aren't brimming with blue-chip prospects-then Jarrod Washburn might be more attainable, particularly as he's more expensive ($10.35 million this year) and the ability to take on salary is something the Mets will need to draw on at some point in this process, given that they've got more holes than a Jarlsberg wheel. Washburn's not as good as his 3.22 ERA suggests, but he's a viable fourth starter. While they're at it, perhaps they can liberate Jeff Clement and throw him into the first-base mix. The Diamondbacks' Doug Davis is another pitcher who comes to mind, particularly as that team is DOA and always looking for salary relief.

For the relievers, LaTroy Hawkins is a name that comes to mind. He was pretty much run out of town on a rail by the Yankees last year, but he's done fantastic work with the Astros (47/13 K/BB in 43 2/3 innings, with just two homers allowed), and while he's currently closing games in Houston, the Astros are going nowhere.

Matt Meyers: It seems to me like the rotation is the least of the Mets' worries right now. At some point, can we accept that Livan is having a good season and doesn't need to be replaced? Or is there no way this isn't a fluke?

Kevin Goldstein: It's a little fluky, but I think they have more pressing needs. That is unless you can pick up a real potential monster like Bedard.

Will Carroll: By monster, do you mean the one that destroyed the Mariners last year? It's amazing how quickly people are willing to turn the page on two seasons of issues due to 10 starts of varying qualities.

Well, Jerry Manuel is lighting into John Maine, so I'm sure they can create a problem. Oliver Perez is a decent enough possibility and there's some other arms, so I don't think this is the pressing need that the first base/catcher slot is, and even that's not such a problem. Look, the Mets aren't the Nationals. They're a couple games back despite all these issues. The question isn't so much are they the new murderer's row, but are they good enough to keep up with a Phillies team that has it's own issues?

Christina Kahrl: I like Jay's thinking on Bedard, in that I think the Mets' more fundamental issue in terms of a unit that needs fixing if they're going to be in good shape down the stretch-after the injured are healthy-is fixing up that rotation. I just look at the proposition that Oliver Perez will somehow be right again, on top of the Mets' counting on Livan Hernandez or Redding as anything more than fifth men.

Right now, the Mets are 14th in terms of their rotation's rank in Support-Neutral winning percentage (.514). That's with the benefit of Livan ranking 30th in the majors among all starters with five or more starts, with a .579 SNWP. I don't think any of us expect that to last. So, whether it's Bedard (who you could afford as a subsequently departing free agent, since you still have to live with the Oliver mess) or Washburn (ditto, and I like him better than Jay on the strength of his strong second half last season), I like that proposition. Dealing with Jack Zduriencik comes with risks (he might see something in one of the Mets' group of low-minors prospects that you haven't), but that's the cost of doing business, and after the Putz deal, I think it might be safe to say that he and Omar Minaya can work something out.

Jay Jaffe: Even conceding the point that Hernandez has been serviceable (and 4.29 FIP is certainly that), you've still got Redding, a very flawed Maine, a broken Perez, and a Mike Pelfrey who's pushing a 5.00 ERA, though that's one bombing coming off five straight quality starts. Maybe they don't break the bank for a Bedard, but they need another solid starter given that it's Johan Santana and a whole lot more going wrong than right.

Back to the hitters, the Nationals' Nick Johnson would certainly fill the bill at first base, as would the Pirates' Adam LaRoche. Both are pending free agents on teams that could use the prospects. Josh Willingham might be an attainable fallback plan given the glut of outfielders the Nats have.

Matt Meyers: The problem with guys like LaRoche and Johnson is that there is still hope of a Delgado return. If he does come back, then you're stuck with two high-quality hitters limited to first base. It seems to me like they should target a bat who can play first base and the outfield, no?

Will Carroll: Some secondary position, to be sure, but I don't think that if the price is right, you don't get a first base-only guy. At worst, you have a way of spotting Delgado out a couple days a week and strengthen your bench. Sure, ideally they get a first base/outfield type, or better a firsr base/catcher type, but just because it's not a dessert topping doesn't mean it's not a good floor wax.

Jay Jaffe: Sure there's hope of a Delgado return, but the timeline and level of effectiveness are hardly a guarantee. If you're really concerned about it, Willingham fits the outfield/first base bill at a much lower price than Johnson.

That or you concede the first-base situation as a 4-6 week problem that you've got to patch through, and you simply try to get by with the in-house combination of Murphy and Tatis while putting your resources elsewhere, like pitching.

Will Carroll: Haven't Utley, Lowell, and Rodriguez taught us enough about what to expect on time and return to effectiveness?

Matt Meyers: So let's say a deal can be made. Kevin, who might have some value in the Mets' system that they would be willing to deal?

Kevin Goldstein: The Mets do not have a very good minor league system, but that doesn't mean that don't have so chips on the table should they decide to shore up their big-league team. Right now, the place to look for those chips is at Double-A Binghamton.

Jenry Mejia, RHP-Young power arms always generate interest in the trade market, and Mejia is just that. Recently promoted from High-A St. Lucie, Mejia delivered seven shutout innings in his Double-A debut, and he's only 19 years old. Only six-feet tall, Mejia doesn't exactly look the part, but he's been in the low to mid-90s all year while showing significant progress in his secondary stuff and command. He'll likely be the first name on many prospective trade partner's lists.

Josh Thole, C-Seen as a bit of a sleeper coming into the year, Thole has been lacing line drives and drawing walks all year for the B-Mets, batting .348/.419/.471 in 49 games. He's not a great defender and has little power (just one home run in 187 at-bats), but the ability to play the position while also providing offensive worth up his value at baseball's scarcest position.

Ruben Tejada, SS-Also only 19 and already in Double-A, Tejada will never blow anyone away on a tools level, but he's looking more like a sure-fire big leaguer due to outstanding fundamentals and defensive versatility. An average runner with a line-drive swing and patient approach, Tejada's .273/.373/.385 line is made all the more impressive by his age and level, while he's a good second baseman and good-enough shortstop who makes every play he gets to.

Jay Jaffe: So Kevin, I take it they (or you) would consider Fernando Martinez untouchable in a deal? Granted, he hit well at Buffalo for six weeks or so and got the call-up recently, but his underwhelming 2007 and 2008 seasons seem to have tempered many peoples' enthusiasm for him.

Kevin Goldstein: I can't see him moving unless it's a massive blockbuster.

Will Carroll Isn't that tempering kind of like seeing Matt Leinart's senior season? A prospect that doesn't pop into the game and hit on all cylinders starts getting less comparisons to Babe Ruth and more to Andy Marte. Martinez's return is down, but as Kevin points out, there's more shiny new toys to deal. The problem I see with Martinez is that trading him creates one more hole that has to be filled by said blockbuster.

Christina Kahrl: I guess this is why I like the suggestion of Willingham or Garko or even Aubrey Huff in what ought to be lesser deals. Not that Garko's really an outfielder or Huff's much more than a potted plant at any of the four corners, but once Delgado's back, the Mets might plausibly employ them at other positions, which you can't do with Nick the Stick. Then they can decide whether or not to non-tender Garko or Willingham while perusing the free-agent market, which beyond Delgado and Huff would also have LaRoche and Johnson.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

44 comments have been left for this article.

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