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Pitching the 2009 Mets

Omar Minaya made one of the first big offseason splashes when he signed Francisco Rodriguez to a 3-yr deal. K-Rod may be showing signs of decline, but with Billy Wagner on the shelf for most, if not all, of the season, the new single-season saves recordholder is a definite improvement over the likes of Luis Ayala and Aaron Heilman. Minaya then sent the aforementioned Heilman to the Mariners in a three team traded that netted the Mets two solid relievers: Sean Green and J.J. Putz.

His focus to date has been spent on the bullpen, which makes sense, given their struggles last season. Their starting rotation still has a spot or two to fill, though, and several players have been linked to the team.

Johan Santana, John Maine, and Mike Pelfrey will all be returning. After these three, several Mets bloggers believe that Jonathan Niese will win the final rotation spot. If not Niese, the Mets still have options in the forms of Brandon Knight and Nelson Figueroa. With 140 innings out of Niese, the current fearsome foursome may look like this next season:

Johan Santana     3.45 FIP     220 IP     +4.5 WAR
John Maine        4.35 FIP     180 IP     +2.1 WAR
Mike Pelfrey      4.08 FIP     185 IP     +2.8 WAR
Jonathan Niese    4.55 FIP     140 IP     +1.4 WAR

Before even adding the final piece to the puzzle that is their starting rotation, these four project to +10.8 wins. The four pitchers heavily linked to the Mets are: Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez, Randy Wolf, and Tim Redding. Here are the projections for these four:

Derek Lowe       3.67 FIP     185 IP     +3.7 WAR
Randy Wolf       4.35 FIP     175 IP     +2.0 WAR
Oliver Perez     4.60 FIP     180 IP     +1.7 WAR
Tim Redding      4.77 FIP     159 IP     +1.3 WAR

With Lowe added to the mix, which may come to fruition very soon, the Mets rotation jumps from +10.8 wins to +14.5 wins. If you recall the post yesterday on the Giants’ chances of contending, their solid starting rotation projects to +15.4 wins. Adding Lowe places the Mets right in the thick of perhaps sporting the best rotation in the senior circuit.

Adding Wolf bumps them up to a respectable +12.8 wins; Perez shifts the rotation from +10.8 to +12.5; and Redding adds +1.3 wins to put the starters at +12.1 wins. If they were to sign Lowe and then resign Perez, Niese theoretically gets bumped and the rotation would project to +14.8 wins.

Essentially, if Niese can manage 140 innings with a 4.55 FIP, his value will be incredibly similar to that of Oliver Perez. Of course, nobody knows if Niese can produce these numbers, but adding Lowe while keeping him in the mix produces +14.5 wins; spending plenty of money on Perez, while signing Lowe, adds a mere +0.3 wins. Given that Perez will likely command a salary upwards of 20 times that of Niese, it makes more sense to give the kid a shot.

Regardless, signing Lowe to an average annual value of $15-16 mil makes sense. If he declines by a 0.7 wins each year, given his age, then he goes from +3.7 to +3.0 to +2.3 wins. If we assume a conservative 7.5% inflation rate, his fair market values in these years would be $18.5 mil, $16.5 mil, and $13.8 mil, respectively. Added together, that equates to 3-yrs/$49 mil. The contract reportedly on the table is for 3-yrs/$45-$48 mil.

The next question is: How does this rotation compare to the Phillies? The defending champs will bring back Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, and Joe Blanton. The fifth spot will be up for grabs between J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, Chan Ho Park, and Adam Eaton. My pick is Happ to win that contest, which would peg their rotation to be worth +11.8 wins.

If these projections hold true, and Niese can manage the aforementioned workload/production, then the Mets could realistically sign Redding and still have an equal rotation to the Phillies. Bringing aboard Perez and Wolf elevates them. Signing Lowe gives the Mets approximately a +2.5 win advantage in this department.

Minaya has done a good job in strengthening the ‘pen with the additions of K-Rod, Putz, and Green. Bringing Lowe to The Big Apple will further strengthen their rotation and, in my eyes, make them the team to beat in the NL East next season. It hurts me to say that, as a Phillies fan, but it will sure feel that way if Lowe signs.