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Here’s the thing about the New York Mets: for all of the focus on their bullpen, which was definitely a reason for their late-season collapses in 2007 and 2008, that is both the most easily explained and the most reparable problem that they have. In both years, the late-season loss of their best reliever-their only full-inning strikeout guy-created a domino effect that could not be patched internally. Had Billy Wagner stayed completely healthy in both seasons, it is probable that the Mets would be coming off of three straight post-season appearances.

So while there’s a perception that the Mets have to sign two or three of the top free-agent relievers this winter, the reality is that they, like most teams, don’t have to make massive investments in the bullpen to get production. They should focus their attention and resources on other areas of the team that need improvement, putting better players on the field and in the rotation to support one of the top four-man roster cores you’re ever going to find, four Hall of Fame talents in their prime or late prime. That quartet makes up what is clearly a championship-caliber core, but if the other 21 spots aren’t brought up to snuff, the Mets will resemble nothing more than the 1996-2000 Mariners, a team that made a couple of post-season appearances with a comparable core of talent, but one that was largely a disappointment.

In the absence of Wagner, the Mets’ pen was inadequate for its lack of a pitcher who could go complete innings, even multiple innings, and be effective. It wasn’t that the Mets lost their capital-C closer; it was that they lost their only reliever who was above-average. With Aaron Heilman and Duaner Sanchez both having lost seasons, the eighth inning was a problem for the team all year long. What the Wagner injury did was to push those problems into the ninth as well, making them more apparent, but the issue at hand did not change. Even if Wagner were going to be available in ’09-and he won’t be-the Mets would need to sign at least one reliever with the skills to be their Scot Shields, their Grant Balfour. Sanchez doesn’t seem to have the velocity any longer, while Heilman is something of an enigma. The rest of the Mets’ pen consists of relievers with such significant platoon issues, both in performance and skills, that asking them to be complete-inning hurlers is a recipe for disaster.

So while the Mets do not need to sign all the big-name relievers, signing one isn’t a bad idea. As the market turns, the price on Francisco Rodriguez appears to be leveling off. As I’ve written, he’s not the guy I would pursue; that would be Kerry Wood or Juan Cruz, who come with lower prices thanks to not coming off of record-setting seasons, and strike me as better fits for the Mets. Both have more recent experience in roles that involve more than getting three outs than Rodriguez does, and the Mets need that. Neither was used that way last year, but Cruz in particular is a pitcher who can be signed without coming with a closer’s price or a closer label, and that’s something the Mets very much need. If you can get both him and Wood, that’s a significant upgrade, and a good use of the additional revenues likely to be available in the team’s first season in CitiField. It is possible to solve this problem more cheaply by assuming risk, but the Mets are in a position where throwing money at a solution, usually a dubious proposition, may make more sense than anything else.

All of the bullpen fixes in the world won’t help if they don’t upgrade the outfield corners, second base, and catcher as a unit. For the former, there are a whole mess of guys out there, as we’ve been discussing this week. The only one of the bunch who can play right field-although he did have a lousy defensive year-is Bobby Abreu. Abreu is also the most complete player of the group, in that he’ll hit for some average and run the bases reasonably well. His perceived value within the game is lower than his real value, which should keep the necessary commitment to him within reason. Even though he’s older than Adam Dunn or Pat Burrell, he’s the outfielder for the Mets to target.

Danny Murphy isn’t going to play second base at the major league level in any way that lets him do so frequently. His bat will make him a decent left fielder however, maybe better than that, and with the Mets spending money elsewhere, they should go to Florida intending that Murphy get most of the time out in left, with an eye towards having him play occasional games at second base. When you have Johan Santana, you can punt defense at second-and look to improve it in left field-once every five games.

You can’t trade Luis Castillo, who has three years and $18 million left from the worst idea of Omar Minaya’s career. You can’t make him a utility infielder because he can’t play shortstop, so you have to release him or use him as your second baseman. Is Castillo a viable starter when healthy? He did have a .355 OBP last year, brings some speed, has become a better basestealer in the past few seasons, and has a reasonable glove. If Murphy is going to play second 20-30 percent of the time, Castillo looks like a fair use of the roster spot because his skills and Murphy’s mesh well. Despite not being a viable utility guy, Castillo nevertheless has bench value as an early-inning pinch-hitter and pinch-runner. He’s a better hitter from the right side than the left, something the Mets need, and despite the valid perception of Castillo as a bust, releasing him is fairly pointless. It’s not about his price tag-sunk costs are sunk costs-but rather that he does have some skills that the Mets can exploit, ones that they may not be able to find in another player.

Is Brian Schneider good enough? This is kind of the Red SoxJason Varitek problem writ small, where the catcher you have isn’t really getting the job done and probably needs to be replaced, but the pool of candidates not currently owned by the Texas Rangers is so unimpressive that your guy starts to look good again. Headed into the last year of a four-year deal, and with the Mets having real needs elsewhere, they can make do with Schneider for another season while hoping that Ramon Castro stays healthy enough to get a few more at-bats than he did last year.

The Mets’ bullpen would have looked a lot better had their rotation worked deeper into games. Santana and Mike Pelfrey did, but outside of those two, no one averaged six innings per start. The Mets have a lot of options to fill out the rotation, but no solutions, and while that’s not a bad way to enter the spring, the package would look better if there was a little more certainty. That means looking away from the upside/inconsistency package of Oliver Perez, and for that matter, the high-strikeout model of A.J. Burnett. The Mets need someone who will make 32 starts, and of the available starters at the high end, the only ones I’d be comfortable saying will do that in the next few years are CC Sabathia and Derek Lowe. As you go down, though, there’s Jon Garland, Paul Byrd, Greg Maddux… there’s a drop in quality that makes it hard to commit to these guys as a number two starter between Santana and Pelfrey.

My sense is that the Mets should spend money in this market if it will get them Sabathia or Lowe. Again, this is a team that has to support a core that is peaking right now, and that’s more than good enough to win a championship. If you cannot sign either pitcher within reason-and note that I’m pessimistic about Sabathia’s ability to pitch effectively on the second half of a six-year deal, and that I already had the Dodgers sign Lowe-then investing in the bullpen and a takes-the-ball guy to pitch in front of a fairly good defense is the way to go.

So here’s the plan:

  1. Sign Kerry Wood to a three-year, $33 million contract. Wood becomes the ninth-inning guy nominally, with an eye towards using him a bit more aggressively than that as situations warrant.

  2. Sign Juan Cruz to a three-year, $18 million contract. I’m not entirely sure what the market will be for a guy who’s never really had a role on a pitching staff. For the Mets, though, adding him would give them a complete-inning, bat-missing reliever who can be used in conjunction with the matchup guys already on staff to elevate this bullpen from problem to asset. Remember, it wasn’t that the 2008 relievers didn’t have ability, but that they were consistently asked to work against their skill sets. Adding both Cruz and Wood will be expensive-$17 million a year-but the effects on roster management and win totals justify the decision.

  3. Sign Derek Lowe to a four-year, $62 million deal. Cheating? Yeah, I know, but I keep coming back to this: Derek Lowe is one of two starters on this market that I’d bet on providing 120 above-average starts over the next four seasons, and I’m not totally sold on the other guy (Sabathia), or that they can or should outbid the Yankees even if they wanted to. Lowe remains the best pitching value on this market; some team is going to put another ring on his finger.

  4. Sign Bobby Abreu to a three-year, $35 million deal. This may be lower than his market value; he’s a difficult player to read. What he brings is OBP, something the Mets could use around the big three in the lineup, and like Lowe, he’s a player who consistently takes the field. The Mets had problems keeping their supporting cast in the lineup last season, which hurt them. Abreu is unlikely to be bad or unavailable, and with his broad skill set, he can decline slowly and still be an asset, especially at that price.

  5. Cut the ties. Let Oliver Perez and Pedro Martinez walk away. Jon Niese gets one rotation spot, and Bobby Parnell backs him up, with both available should John Maine struggle in his return.

The 2009-10 Mets will have a very high payroll-I just added $45 million to what looked to be a $95-100 million payroll prior to my spending spree-and may even be subject to the investment tax. At this point in their history, though, with an amazing core, a new ballpark, and a share of the largest market in the game, they have to commit to doing whatever it takes to put this roster over the top. This is not the typical Prospectus approach, but this is not the typical situation, and getting caught up in principles isn’t going to turn a very good team into the very best one. This is how to help the Reyes/Wright Mets win a championship.

Thank you for reading

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What role do you see for Ryan Church? While he can\'t be expected to repeat his pre-concussion production, is he someone you move to left (assuming Abreu is signed) on the days that Murphy is playing second? Or is there a better usage pattern for him?
How good would the Mets be if they could find a #2 starter and let Maine/Pelfrey slide to 3/4? What about dangling F-Mart to the Pads for Peavy? If Martinez can\'t play centerfield, let\'s not repeat the Milledge mistake and sell low. Corner outfield bats are a dime a the time he\'s ready we\'ll have drafted or signed another dude or ten. This satisfies all the idiots talking about \"toughness\" and \"heart\" with Santana and Peavy fronting your pitching will also relieve the pressure to try and mash with the Phils, Marlins and Braves. Thoughts?
I don\'t think the Mets are looking for a right fielder. If anything, they seem more likely to sign a left fielder and play Church in right. That would seem to make Dunn an attractive target.

Also, where do you see Nick Evans, if at all, in your plan?
I would sign Pat Burrell for the double effect of (a) he\'s a good player, and (b) the Mets cannot get him out, so they don\'t have to face him.
I think the Mets should maybe instead go to the Marlins and try to pry away Dan Uggla, and one of their many not great but suitable for now outfielders. The Marlins are constantly trying to get rid of their best players and even if that means the Mets have to cut ties with another prospect, they\'ve done it before, and there\'s no reason to back away now that they\'re so close to winning. Then they should sign some of your free agents.
Wood 3/33m
Lowe 4/62m
Abreu 3/35m

Those seem like drastic overpays. I support the ideas, but I think the Mets could get all 3 for less. Maybe you\'re suggesting they need to overpay to attract them?
I would agree that 3/33 for Wood is an overpay, and thats based solely on his vast injury history. Those figures for Abreu and Lowe appear to be exactly what they should be getting, with Abreu making slightly less than he probably should, or perhaps his defense is just that bad.
Good article Joe, but a couple of points. One, the Mets aren\'t subject to the luxury tax for the next couple of seasons as a result of opening their new ballpark (I\'m pretty sure that this is the case). Two, while Abreu is a good offensive player, between having him and Murphy in the corners, Beltran is going to have to put in for hazard pay. I don\'t know what the outfield in the new park will look like, but if its anything at all like Shea, it seems to be a bad idea to have two defensive negatives out there with what is a primarily fly ball pitching staff (Santana, Neise and Maine).
If we\'re going to punt defense entirely, doesn\'t it make more sense to get Dunn? Especially since we can put him at first next year once Delgado leaves and (hopefully) slide F-Mart in his spot in the outfield.
Murphy is good defensive left fielder...

Also, I don\'t like the idea of \"punting defense.\" I understand your point, but one bad fielder does not mean we should not care about defense.
Well, I know that Murphy had good defensive numbers last year, but that was in an extremely small sample and I didn\'t think he looked particularly smooth out there. There were a few times where he took curious routes to balls and was bailed out because Beltran ran in there.
My point wasn\'t that the Mets should punt defense-- I don\'t think they should at all, which is why I\'m against Abreu. I\'m just saying if we\'re getting an all bat, no-glove fielder, I\'d rather have Dunn, who is the far superior hitter and whose defense would only be a problem for one year until we could park him at 1st.
Wood and Cruz in particular seem like overpays. 3/$18 m is way too much for a reliever that has never closed and has sporadic command. 3/$15 m might even be more than they need to spend on him. 3/$33 m seems high for Wood. The annual salary is tolerable, but I\'d want more of a discount for going over 2 years. Maybe do that if the 3rd year is an option.
I guess the Giants kinda set the price right at 4m per year in signing relievers first in the 2008 FA market. For a guy with Cruz\'s history, 4m would indeed be his price. Kerry Wood should be somewhere around 8m per year, but who knows what will happen.
aren\'t we past the \"has never closed\" stage of baseball analysis? If you believe that Juan Cruz is a near-ace reliever and that those cost you 3/18, then he\'s a good buy whether he has closer experience or not.
He goes by Daniel, not Danny Murphy.
An interesting subplot to your Mets plan would be where you think K-Rod should end up. If you don\'t think the Mets would plunk down the big money for him, then I don\'t know who would. Basically, if all 30 teams had Joe Sheehan clones running them, would anybody sign K-Rod at anywhere near his asking price? (I smell collusion.) The counter to this argument is also valid. You think Kerry Wood is the best value as closer, that\'s fine. But you can\'t advise every team looking for a closer to sign Kerry Wood. Just as with your Derek Lowe suggestion, only one team can actually sign him. If you don\'t land that guy, you need a backup plan.
Sometimes I feel like the 2007-8 mets were specifically designed for the pain of their fans.

Build expectations around an amazing core, have a time bomb closer that gets older every year, an ace who is infuriatingly prevented from finishing certain games, one of the most bipolar pitchers in the bigs, and oh yeah a bullpen that just can\'t cut it and loses more games after the 7th than anyone. Maximum number of late game losses plus maximum late season loses? My heart is bleeding. The 2007 collapse was statistically improbable. But multiplied by the next year\'s collapse (92 peak) and you have some real stochastic anguish.

And I should stop before I break the keys on my keyboard.

Great plan joe, ever step away from it that omar makes will be painstakingly reviewed on september 30th next year when we inevitably collapse again.
It\'s because our GM is an idiot.
Joe, I don\'t see a need to replace Church with Abreu. Isn\'t that a downgrade? Defensively, Beltran and Church can support Murphy/Evans/Tatis in left.

Re. the bullpen, you are right about how they should be careful to throw money and long-term contracts at it, but isn\'t that what you\'re doing by signing Wood (huge health risk!) and Cruz (three years sounds like Schoenweis\'s deal)?

Lowe is perfect; I hope they sign him. Offensively, they need one more righty, run-prioducing bat. I\'d add Juan Rivera, planning on getting him about 400 ABs between left and right. If healthy, I\'d use Tatis out there too, but I\'d try to use Tatis in the infield too, at least more than they did last year. Rivera is not a sexy sign, but I don\'t want to invest too many years at this point.

I\'d consider trading either Murphy or Evans in the right deal that nets a good starter, someone who averages 6+ innings per game. On the rooks, I\'m one of the few who thinks Evans will be the better player long-term. Regardless, Nick Evans can start at AAA if he\'s squeezed from the roster, knowing we can call him to back up first or an OF corner.

F-Mart, a lefty, may be ready in 2010. Only if he\'s ready then, do I consider giving up on Church & trading him. Church brings top-rate defense to RF. I see the possibility of a major restructuring of the outfield in 2010, not now.
Re: Murphy vs. Evans

I\'m one of the few who might agree with you IF Murphy\'s Mets career winds up as a 1B/LF. However, if he somehow winds up at 2B and plays adequate defense (or even God forbid 3B if Wright has to miss time), I think Murphy instantly adds a whole new element to what\'s already a solid skill set. Evans clearly has more power potential and he\'s further ahead of the age curve than Murphy was a year ago.

I also think that, all things equal, Murphy might have a better shot at longevity, while Evans will have a better shot at having a handful of all-star caliber seasons. Murphy has already shown a tremendous knack for skills that players typically need to develop as they age to remain productive; control of the strike zone and pitch selection. He\'s a very heady hitter, who\'s already displayed the ability to set pitchers up, a skill that\'s very unique in a 23 year old rookie. Players who have a knack for these skills have a better chance at remaining productive later into their careers as they\'re physical gifts degrade and they must rely more on intellectual talents. The fact that Murphy has already displayed these skills is a great indicator that whatever his career does ultimately turn into, it could remain at that level for a good long time.

Evans, on the other hand, is built on a larger frame and has a more powerful swing. His control over the strike zone isn\'t as polished as Murphy\'s, but his physical tools (namely those required for hitting) are more pronounced and still seem to leave some room for growth. As a result, I think there\'s a better chance he puts up big numbers from an offense first position, but if that happens it may be more short lived that the career Murphy has. That could obviously change, most players who have long careers develop the more intellectually-oriented skills after their careers are off the ground. They rely on physical ability until it stops being reliable for them, and once that happens the ones who are able to adjust their skillset are the ones who continue to succeed at a high level. Part of the reason Murphy may have already resorted to the more intellectually rooted skills is because his raw physical tools just aren\'t that impressive across the board, but its still very rare that a young player with modest physical ability manages to trump that with intellectual adjustments.
I also agree on Church. Abreu would basically be sacrificing defense for OBP, and I don\'t think that\'s what the Mets need. If they had a legitimate outfielder playing LF (not an infielder like Tatis or Murphy or a offense-only vet like Manny), Abreu might make some sense, but Church also helps cover up the range-deficiencies of Castillo and Delgado on the right side of the infield (at least on weak flyballs). His power now is pretty similar to what Abreu would bring, the big difference would be about .050 points of OBP. That is significant, but not worth the defensive downgrade. The Mets may not have anyone you can rely on for a near .400 OBP other than David Wright, but they also don\'t have anyone who\'s likely to post an atrociously unacceptable OBP. At the end of last year, among the starting eight (assuming Murphy was your LF), Brian Schneider was the weak link in the OBP chain, but his .339 mark was at least tolerable. After that, the worst OBPs were as follows ranking lowest to highest: Ryan Church (.346), Carlos Delgado (.353), Luis Castillo (.355), Jose Reyes (.358), Carlos Beltran (.376), David Wright (.390), and Daniel Murphy (.397)*. Rather than upgrade those group of OBPs with a corner outfielder, I\'d prefer to keep the solid defensive pieces together and instead focus on either right-handed power, second base defense, or any kind of offense from Catcher.
*Sample size caveat applies to any of Murphy\'s rate statistics.
All great thorough points/analysis, Meddler.
I hate to pile on, but it is a BIG oversight when you write an article about the Mets and forget that Ryan Church is the starting RF.

I suppose one day isn\'t long enough to make trades (and you\'d need the ability to run 2 teams for a day), but how about...

I\'d pursue Delmon Young in a trade- the Twins are reportedly willing to part with him (FMartinez plus a pitching prospect should do it), or...

As John Perrotto reported, there is at least super-preliminary talk about the Mets trading for Jenks and Dye from the WhiteSox for a package of youngsters.

Perhaps they can swap bad contracts with the Dbacks, trading Castillo (Ariz is losing Hudson) for Eric Byrnes (who has nowhere to play in AZ). Byrnes isn\'t great, but he can bat 7th and play great D in left for me anyday.
Why in the world would we give up Martinez for Delmon Young when FMart has far and away more star potential than Young? As for Dye - he is 35 and I am not comfortable continuing to give youth for experience (a la the Milledge trade, among others).
I\'m sorry but delmon was the number 1 prospect in all of baseball an has plenty of star power. Fmart is a good prospect but scouts at very split on him. His biggest achievment so car is holding his own as one of the younger players in the league.
Meh. Not bad. Love the Lowe idea, but they won\'t get him as he\'ll be a Yankee or Red Sock. I like Scotty\'s idea of Delmon - you get the righty bat and don\'t get older doing it. Instead, you add to the core.

Look for Omar to go bargain hunting in the rotation and get [pukes on keyboard] Jon Garland.
Here\'s what I would do if I were Mets GM:

1. Sign one of K-Rod/Fuentes/Wood as determined by which closer offers the best value. Play the free-agent closing surplus to your advantage--you shouldn\'t have to offer your guy more than three years. Personally, I\'d choose K-Rod because he\'s several years younger and strikes me more as a \"New York guy,\" which is no small deal in mollifying your fan base after another historic collapse.

2. Unfortunately, the brand name set-up men I would\'ve signed have already been scooped up by the Giants (Affeldt and Howry). Plus, I\'m just not sold on signing Cruz due to my reluctance to give a middle reliever a multi-year deal, on top of the fact that he will also cost a Type A draft pick. In light of the fact that you\'re already signing a closer that will cost a first-round pick--and perhaps a starter as well--signing Cruz would do violence to your farm system even after accounting for the picks you\'ll get for losing Ollie Perez. Instead, be on the lookout for some low-cost late-inning options that can pitch multiple innings and bridge the gap between the LOOGY\'s and ROOGY\'s in the \'pen and the closer.

3. Out of all the top-tier FA starters, Lowe is the best fit by far for the Mets. Also pick up an innings-eating veteran 5th starter like a Paul Byrd, with Niese and Parnell in Triple A to provide depth.

4. While Abreu would be a good acquisition for a number of other teams, I don\'t think he\'d work on the Mets: he makes the lineup too left-handed and his bad defense would be a poor fit for the Mets\' flyball pitching staff. I prefer signing Juan Rivera, who provides solid value on a two-year contract and would form an above-average platoon of sorts with Murphy (as well as insurance in RF in case Church\'s concussion problems pop up again).

5. I\'m willing to accept Castillo as a sunk cost and can even buy into the logic that he has value as a solid defensive 2B (when healthy) and OBP guy. Still, the automatic outs at catcher and the pitchers spot make it hard to carry someone as punchless as Castillo; therefore, I\'d sign Felipe Lopez as a super-utility guy who can be the offensive part of a 2B platoon as well as occasionally cover for the stars on the right side of the infield and the OF corners.
Joe, Joe, Joe,

\"You can\'t trade Luis Castillo, who has three years and $18 million left from the worst idea of Omar Minaya\'s career\"

Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips for half a year of Colon.
Wow. That trade is looking better and better. Ouch.

In fairness, however, Benson for Maine has worked well. And Nady for Perez has generally been a good deal.
And as a die hard Indians fan. I saw thank you Minaya. But I sure wish Shapiro would have stuck with Phillips a little bit longer. Peralta, Cabrera, Phillips, and Beau Mills/Martinez would be a very nice young infield.
Remember, though, that at the time, MLB had told Minaya and everyone else that the Expos were going to be contracted and have all their players redistributed throughout the league at the end of that season. So all the Expos\' minor leaguers had zero value to that team, since there was no \"next year\" for the Expos. So, given the information he had at the time, Minaya actually traded half a year of three minor leaguers, none of whom could have helped that team that season, into half a season of an elite starting pitcher. So based on the information he had at the time, he was turning assets which had no value to the franchise into an asset that could have potentially gotten them into the playoffs.

I\'m not a huge Omar apologist, but I don\'t think you can hold this against him in the \"Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps\" or \"Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen\" mold, because the circumstances of the Colon trade were so unique.
I like the ideas set forth by Joe. There was a name conspicoulsy absent from the conversation with regards to the 2009 Mets. He name is Aaron Heilmann. What do you do with him? I gather that it would be best to either trade him to the Rockies in exchange for Street, or sending him out to the Rays along with Nick Evans and getting Sonnastine in return.

It appears unlikely that the Mets can actually sign Lowe because according to John Hayman, he is looking for a 5 year $90M deal. There is a pretty big gulf between $60M over four years and $90M over 5. CC decides what happens here. If the Yanks to net CC, then they will be harder up for CC thus pricing the Mets out. If CC choses the Yanks, then the Mets will have to deal with the Redsox. It appears that he want to go back to Boston, but he would pitch else where if the money is right. The translation here is that the Mets are going to have to out bid teh Redsox. The Sox are not that hard up for pitching so a price war will not be too bloody.

Perhaps it would be wiser to sign Ben Sheets to a three year deal $48M over 3 years with an option as a sweetener and think about signing Randy Wolf to get another lefty in the rotation. Wolf\'s peripheral\'s were better than Oliver Perez\'s. His k rate was solid and his bb rate was normal.

You might want to wait a year to get that solid number two behind Johan.

Next year\'s available starters: Dan Haren,Josh Beckett, Kelvim Escobar,and Cliff Lee, and you can also take a flier on Erik Bedard.

Left Field Bats Next year: Jason Bay, and Matt Holiday.

There is a pretty big gulf between $60M over four years and $90M over 5. CC decides what happens here. If the Yanks do not net CC, then they will be harder up for pitching thus pricing the Mets out of the race for Lowe. If CC choses the Yanks, then the Mets will have to deal with the Redsox. It appears that Lowe wants to go back to Boston, but he would pitch else where if the money is right. The translation here is that the Mets are going to have to out bid the Redsox. The Sox are not that hard up for pitching so a price war will not be too bloody.
Wood, Cruz, Lowe, and Abreu to win a championship?

You forgot to factor in a couple freighters-worth of magic pixie-dust. (What would that do to payroll?)