Taking on the mantle of GM for a day may only be a matter of cutting ahead of either Sandy Alderson or Josh Byrnes by a sunrise, but with a team this dysfunctional and disappointing, you'd think they were taking on an epic failure. But the same talent and the same issues that make the Mets as likely a team to win 72 games as 92 makes them a particularly exciting opportunity.
The other factor in play is that 2011 is the last year in which the Mets control Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes. Since they're already strapped into long-term commitments with Johan Santana, David Wright, and Jason Bay, about as win-now a crew as you can conjure up, the quick and easy decision is to treat this winter's shopping not as a matter of major retrenchment, but of sticking with that element of the script for Year One of the new regime.
Sort Out Useful Keepers
While the acronym is a hint of sorts, you want to figure out who you want to keep around before plunging into the market with a needs list. Start off with just non-tendering John Maine; whether he's sunk or not, you can forget about remembering the Maine that was and just need to turn the page already. You can also thank Elmer Dessens for a nice little comeback and then let him walk as a free agent and let someone else take their chances with the defense-dependent contributions.
In contrast, I'll make a point of re-signing Hisanori Takahashi and Pedro Feliciano. The bullpen has plenty of right-handed keepers, with Bobby Parnell and Manny Acosta both looking worthwhile, and you've still got K-Rod. Otherwise, the pen's at risk for losing both of its key southpaws, and the market's hardly awash in lefties of quality.
Don't Just Cope, Deal
There's that rotation slot to fill, whether you want to call it Maine's or Oliver Perez's or what. There's also the problem of identifying whether R.A. Dickey is really going to be a reliable asset on into the future. Finally, there's the critical question of whether Santana is going to be fully ready in time for Opening Day after getting work on his shoulder in September. Set against that, there's the near-readiness of Dillon Gee and the question of when you'll integrate Jenrry Mejia into the unit.
The other problem is that the market isn't awash with options. Maybe you can afford to get in on Cliff Lee, but if not, you can address the rotation aggressively in another way. For grins and the entertainment value of bringing back a former Mets prospect, I'll offer Perez to the Angels for Scott Kazmir in a challenge trade that provides a pair of problem pitchers with changes of scenery. Both are locked in through 2011 for $12 million apiece, but Kazmir comes with a club option for 2012 that'll cost an additional $2.5 million to buy out; if the Angels fidget, I'll be generous and offer to skip any financial considerations—that'll be the Wilpons' $2.5 million to spend. But if Kazmir bounces back in the weaker league against divisional foes that lean left in their lineups, you've made a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
If the Angels understandably laugh and hang up saying, “See you in Orlando,” my next move is see what sort of incentive-laden deals Rich Harden, Javier Vazquez, and Erik Bedard might go for. With Santana's ETA in doubt, you really only have Mike Pelfrey, Dickey, and Jon Niese to count on, and Perez (or Kazmir) needs to be treated as a complete wild card. Gee might make for a decent filler option. Signing any one of that trio would be a way of betting on the upside of a group of guys with health and/or performance issues in the tougher league. Finally, take a flyer on Justin Duchscherer; he may be done, and the native Texan might desire to pursue opportunities closer to home, but if you can get him as a non-roster invite with a creative deal that rewards health, he might be a very handy utility pitcher, filling in with rotation work if Johan is missing for a while, and giving the pen depth when he's not needed as a starter.
While I like the idea of leaving right field open for a winner to emerge from Angel Pagan, Fernando Martinez, and Lucas Duda, I'd rather treat Pagan as the fourth outfielder who starts at least three games per week, and let Duda and Martinez get another half-season or so under their belts in the minors. If we're going to win now, we need to find a bat to help the offense right now. So, use some measure of financial muscle, and see which team holding a 2012 free agent-to-be is willing to shed salary. Maybe the Padres don't want to go to arbitration with Ryan Ludwick. Maybe the Angels don't want Juan Rivera now that he's been crowded out of the outfield. These are the lower-end options, worth the phone calls to see if they're doable and find out what the other guy wants, but they're just a couple of a panoply of possibilities.
For the really interesting possibilities, maybe there's a match to made with the Royals for David DeJesus, in which case you just added a perfect order-topper who, along with Reyes, gives the middle of the order RBI opportunities galore. On the other hand, following what other GMs might be up to might serve well here, because maybe the Red Sox decide to deal from depth and are willing to move J.D. Drew or Mike Cameron, all the better to afford re-signing Victor Martinez and possibly Adrian Beltre. Admittedly, acquiring Cameron might involve a conversation with Beltran about moving over to right field, but you don't make the deal if Beltran won't move.
Sorting Out Second Base
Ah, Luis Castillo, Omar Minaya loved him like a doting director slavers after his ingenues, but now I'm the one stuck with him for one more year. Tempting as it might be to fulfill somebody's wish that he become yesterday's accused Metropolitan, I'll accept that at worst he's a placeholder who might provide a wee bit of OBP. In the meantime, I can add my endorsement to waiting and watching to see if Daniel Murphy and Reese Havens heal soon, and keeping them in the picture for unseating Castillo at some point during the season. That might sound very passive, but you're stuck with Castillo for the time being but moving Murphy to the keystone last year made sense as far as where his bat profiles best, and the job should be Havens' in 2012 if he's fully healed. But rather than just sit entirely still, and anticipating my next action item, see if you can get Mark DeRosa from the Giants to fill a supersub role that initially might involve a lot of time at second base.
O Me, Omar, Time to Build a Bench That's Thar
DeRosa would be the beginning of fixing up the club's bench, but the Giants may well intend for him to be next year's starting third baseman, so you can't bet on getting him. However, demoting Pagan to regularly-used irregular outfielder would provide one key reserve, and with the catching slot going to Josh Thole, it would also be worth going out and getting a quality backup. David Ross, Jose Molina and Ramon Castro are all obvious choices, but if Thole's development is something you want to attach a name player to, sign Jason Varitek. For infield reserves and absent DeRosa, I'd target Maicer Izturis because you could wind up with a quality switch-hitting OBP source who can fill in at second, short, or third as needed, as a reserve or a starter for a stretch forced by injuries.
Finding a Skipper
I'm only here for the day, so picking a manager would be a little bit self-indulgent—I don't have to work hand in glove with the guy, and having a great working relationship is a critical component for modern major-league operations. That said, you're in win-now mode, and you have a frustrated fan base to placate, so here's this: get Davey Johnson out of mothballs and whatever “Senior Advising” he's up to in DC with the Nationals, and give him a contract and a guaranteed sinecure once he's decided he's tired of this last bit of reincarnation. See if you can sell Davey on retaining Wally Backman as a coach and understudy, and you'll wind up with a brilliant manager while taking a page from the Jack McKeon playbook—and Johnson is several years younger in this last stand than McKeon was with the Marlins in 2003. And if it helps sell a few seats while maximizing the opportunity to win a playoff slot in 2011, there's nothing wrong with that.
Kill or Be Killed
If some of these moves pan out, Alderson or Byrnes can look forward to cutting Perez and Castillo in March. My advice as my day behind the desk ends is that you don't want to cut them now, not until you need the roster space for the odd NRI or two, and not until you have a better idea of how many of my bright ideas worked out. If they do work, then perhaps you won't be held hostage to Perez's flaky relationship with the strike zone or Castillo's rattling wheels, and fans in Flushing might be doing jigs in the streets. And now, hopefully armed with a lovely parting package, I can look forward to my press conference where I talk about how my undoing was all the fault of some writer bucking for a job in the organization. Hey, wait a minute…