Roster Doctor: Fixing the Mets

Building a roster is tough. Rebuilding one is even tougher. Not only does a team need to adhere to a strict game plan in acquiring the right mix of talent at both the major and minor league levels, but it must also resist the urge to break away from a strategy if the returns are not immediately satisfactory. Sometimes multiple roster turnovers are needed before a competitive team emerges. I bring this up because the Mets currently find themselves in a strange situation, the gray area between competing and rebuilding.

Their roster was originally constructed with a win-now mentality. But a slew of serious injuries and the regression associated with various players aging kept them from seriously competing in years past. These same factors have also rendered them unlikely to battle for a playoff berth this season. The extremely high cost of several players, acquired under previous management, mixed with the financial troubles of ownership has made budgeting a serious consideration. The Mets simply cannot spend like they used to.

Without a dynamite farm system, and with high-priced players on the books, it could be particularly difficult for the team to get where it needs to be, even with a solid front office featuring Sandy Alderson and Paul DePodesta.  How can the Mets right the proverbial ship? Here is a brief overview of do’s and dont’s that could help vault the team back to the top of the competitive spectrum.

Don’t Overpay Mike Pelfrey
Pelfrey does some things well. Though he doesn’t miss many bats, and is by no means a control freak, he keeps the ball on the ground and in the yard. He has also proven himself durable, averaging a touch under 200 innings over the last three seasons. But he is a nice, middle-of-the-rotation hurler and not an ace in the making; his opening day start should not be conflated with his status as an opening day starter.

Pitchers of this ilk certainly have value, but they are not worth lucrative contract extensions. Much of his success stems from extremely low HR/FB ratios, which can be lower for groundball pitchers, but I wouldn’t bank on him sustaining a sub-6.0 percent rate.

The Mets should not rule out non-tendering him at some point over the next two seasons either if it becomes clear that his likely salary will exceed his value. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility and makes just under $4 million this season.

Assuming he continues to hover around his 2008-10 average of 2.5 wins per season, a wins-to-dollar computation would likely justify a $10-11 million salary, but production just over the league average could likely be found at much less of a cost. A team in the Mets position shouldn’t be paying a pitcher like Pelfrey an eight-figure salary.

Don’t Let Francisco Rodgriguez’s 2012 Option Vest
Under no circumstances should that option, valued at $17.5 million, be allowed to vest. The salary becomes guaranteed if Rodriguez finishes 55 games this season, if his 2010-11 games finished total meets or exceeds 100, and if doctors declare him healthy when the season ends. He finished 46 games last season, meaning he will need exactly 55 this season to satisfy the first two contractual criteria.

K-Rod is a solid relief pitcher but in no way whatsoever is he worth $17.5 million. The salary would only be somewhat justifiable if he was 100 percent guaranteed to match his peripherals from a year ago, and if the Mets were a serious playoff contender. The contract calls for a buyout of $3.5 million if the option is not exercised, or does not vest, and that $14 million in savings could go a long way toward helping the Mets turn things around.

Feel Out the Trade Market For Carlos Beltran
When the Mets signed Beltran to a 7-yr/$119 million contract back in 2005, they included an interesting provision by agreeing not to offer arbitration after the final year of the deal. Perhaps Beltran and Boras saw the writing on the wall that teams may shy away from Type A free agents due to the required surrender of high draft picks.

The idea that the Mets might be able to extract more in compensatory draft picks than they could in prospects from a trade has to be thrown out the window. They won’t get high compensatory picks, and if they don’t seek a trade, they won’t be able to extract value from him beyond this season in any capacity. Beltran is a fantastic player when healthy, but his production will not make or break the Mets campaign.

That being said, I’m a big Beltran fan and hate the vitriol consistently spewed in his direction. He can still be valuable and help a team this season, but it’s in the Mets best interest to use Beltran to help their future, and not just let him walk away and sign elsewhere.

Extend Jose Reyes
I know they have money troubles, but it doesn’t mean the team has no money whatsoever. Simply put, the Mets have nobody ready to fill in should they let Reyes walk, and the only other similarly talented option available via free agency is Jimmy Rollins. Can’t see that happening. From 2006-08, Reyes averaged almost six wins above replacement per season, and in his first full season removed from an injury, he managed 2.8 WAR last year.

If his asking price becomes absurdly high, the Mets should reevaluate the situation, but otherwise extending Reyes is a no-brainer. He will cost much more than the $6 million average annual value of his current contract, but he and agent Peter Greenberg aren’t going to be asking for $18-$20 million either. I’m sure a deal can be worked for all vested parties.

Trade Johan Santana?
I know, it sounds crazy, and this key is a wild card, but hear me out. Santana isn’t the pitcher he once was, and does a team in their situation really want to be on the hook for $24 million next season, $25.5 million in 2013, and $25 million in 2014? The final year of the deal is structured as a club option that converts to a player option if he pitches 215 innings in 2013, 420 innings over 2012-13, or 630 innings from 2011-13. If he can return at the end of the year and remain healthy into next season, it’s conceivable that the option becomes his, at which point he would certainly choose to guarantee the hefty salary.

If the Mets were to pay, say, half of his remaining salary, several teams would come out of the woodwork to pony up prospects and pay Santana $12 or so million a year based on the possibility he reverts to previously established levels.

If the Mets can seriously improve their team by extending Reyes, and using the money saved by not overpaying Pelfrey, from Beltran coming off the books, and from Rodriguez’s option being bought out, then Johan could be a big part of their success a couple of years out. Exploring a trade for their ace isn’t a necessity, but is interesting to ponder.

But if the team needs to remove part of his salary from their books, or use his perceived value to substantially aid their rebuilding efforts, the fact that he is Johan Santana should not stand in their way. In fact, it should be to their benefit should they try and make a move.

Right now the Mets lack an identity. They don’t know if they are rebuilding or going all in. Before following any of these steps the team needs to accurately assess its current state and decide what path to take. Otherwise they will remain in neutral, with talented players but not enough either now or in the future to compete for a championship.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


46 Responses to “Roster Doctor: Fixing the Mets”

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  1. Ryan says:

    Uh, what team would possibly accept a trade to acquire an oft-injured pitcher who’ll make $75 million dollars in the next three years? The Angles?

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Very few — which is why I specifically mentioned that the Mets would be paying at least half of his salary. At $12 mil/yr, Johan is much more attractive.

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    • NBarnes says:

      While it’s always the obvious answer… the Yankees? They could use some starting pitching….

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    • jaywrong says:

      you just answered your own question. it just takes one crazy team, as it did with wells…

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    • Bill says:

      It wouldn’t be a crazy move for NYY to trade for him provided the Met’s pay a chunk of his contract. Money means less to the Yanks. They can afford to pay a pitcher 13 or 14 million to sit around injured, if the upside is great enough. I think it is in this situation.

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    • Eddie says:

      The Sox traded for Jake Peavy while he was hurt, and look how well that’s worked out for them. I’d stay far away from Santana right now.

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      • mike savino says:

        While I wish Jake Peavy the best, as a Padre fan let me just say:

        Wheeeeeee!!!!!!!!

        Because of Clayton Richard!

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    • Joe Twinsfan says:

      The Angles might not but I bet the Saxons would.

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  2. Steve says:

    few… but the point was a lot of teams would accept a trade to acquire an oft-injured, but previously elite, pitcher if the cost was around 37.5 mil over the next 3 years.

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  3. Mike G. says:

    Good luck trying not to let that option vest for K-Rod. If it looks like the Mets are actively trying to keep him out of the closer role for the sake of blocking the option, they’re going to wind up having to pay it anyway. And that’s just what the Mets need, too: more bad P.R.

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    • Dandy Salderson says:

      Bad PR? What Met fan would think that is a bad move? A sign of intelligence from the team would certainly qualify as good PR. Its not like Met fans like KRod these days anyway.

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      • wobatus says:

        Maybe he meant bad PR with possible future Met free agent signings or other players negotiating with them. I agree they should try to avoid the vesting, but it could indeed lead to a lawsuit or at least make some other players hesitate.

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      • sparbz says:

        It’s not the Bad P.R. they’re worried about… It’s the MLBPA taking a fit.

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    • snapper says:

      You just trade him at the break to a team with an established closer, eating all his salary if necessary. Voila, problem gone.

      Hell, they can give hime to the Yankees for free (C prospect, Mets pay entire salary) to pitch the 7th inning, if that’s what it takes to prevent the option.

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      • Dandy Salderson says:

        This. Trade him for nothing and eat his salary if necessary. What team wouldnt want him in the 8th? Problem solved.

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  4. GrandpaFratastic says:

    What exactly does “finishing a game” even mean? Obviously if he gets a save that is finishing a game, and the chances of him getting 55 saves is pretty slim, but if he blows a save on a walk-off does that coun’t as “finishing”? If he pitches in a tie game and then the Mets win in the next half inning is he credited with a finish? I definitely think you could keep him in the closer role and if finishing games is the concern only use him it save situations. I doubt he will see 55 save opportunities this season.

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    • Paul Zummo says:

      Long story short: as long as he throws the last pitch for the Mets, yes, it’s a game finished. So if he blows a save in the 9th and the Mets lose: game finished. That’s why 55 games finished is a relatively easy threshold to reach. Crossing my fingers he only gets to 54.

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      • GrandpaFratastic says:

        Thanks. Seems like such an odd thing to put in a contract.

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      • Paul Zummo says:

        “Seems like such an odd thing to put in a contract.”

        Indeed it is. Omar Minaya – the gift that keeps on giving.

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      • Dash says:

        They can’t put in statistical performance incentives into the contract. They couldn’t contractually say that it would vest with 55 saves or an ERA less than 2.50 or any other performance stat like that. The next best thing is playing time incentives, with the assumption that if the player is performing well and the team is trying its best to win, they will reach the goal.

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  5. TheGrandSlamwich says:

    With Sandy Alderson at the helm, as well as the overall resourses of their market (despite the obvious current issues), I expect them to rebound pretty quickly and have the ability to be more competittive even as soon as 2012. I still expect Reyes will hit free agency, but they have a few other contracts coming off the books that I believe will free up some breathing room for them to put together some decent short-term deals. Those could be nice band-aids as the team forms a longer term approach and gets through their financial situation.

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  6. Joel says:

    So, under the assumption that Santana comes back strong, you trade him and eat 50% of his salary (roughly 12m yr). You would then need to sign a pitcher to replace him. To get a front line starter to do this it would cost a minimum of the 12m savings you net from Santana (roughly a Brad Penny level starter).

    So would you rather Brad Pennyish production for a total cost of 24m (12 to Penny 12 to Santana) or just spend the same and have Santana (who would at least put some extra butts in the seats)?

    Replace Penny with almost any 12m a year starter and the same applies.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      I agree completely. If they were going to completely rebuild, I can see trying to trade him – or if they can get some great prospects in a trade, then it might be worthwhile. But if it’s a pure salary dump and they’ll still be on the hook for $12MM/year, they’d be better off keeping Santana.

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    • Dwight says:

      They do not need to sign a $12 Million / year guy to replace him, if they are rebuilding they let Gee, Mejia, Harvey, etc come up, or they sign a Chris Young, Chris Capuano type to hold the role until the young guys are better prepared. The point is that the Mets shouldn’t be spending money on adding a win or two when they need so much more to be ready for a playoff run. Add that to the fact that in return for Santana you will get young, cost controlled players and it would make sense to do this.

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  7. acerimusdux says:

    Agree on all points. Pelfrey especially. Pelfrey is only 27 years old right now, but still a full 3 years from free agency. He’ll be 30 in his first free agent season, and probably isn’t a guy you want to extend into his 30s. It may seem silly to have to point out that an inconsistent #3/4 SP shouldn’t be paid an 8 figure salary based on supposedly untapped potential, but the team that paid Oliver Perez $12M/yr. may still need to be reminded of these things from time to time. Pelfrey could even be a trade chip in another year, while being under control has some value, given that the Mets might actually have some depth in mid-rotation types by then (Chris Young, at 32 this year, is looking like a very solid find for the current front office, who could be a veteran presence filling that role for a few more years time at lower cost).

    Not mentioned above though is what the Mets might need to add to change the dynamic of their team. The farm system, while not great, has produced some good complimentary talent in recent years, in Pagan, Davis, and Thole. And with Mejia, Harvey and Familia, it appears there could be some pitching on the way as well. They may be lacking future stars there, but the Mets are a team that ought to be able to afford to acquire and pay a star player from time to time as long as the farm is producing some depth.

    So yes, they ought to be able to pay Reyes, maybe 6 years/$100M or thereabouts, and then maybe look to add one more star talent somewhere if they can find one. Reyes is probably worth a slight overpay just for the excitement and energy he brings to the team. If you are left with a middle of the lineup of Wright, Davis, and Bay, that’s solid but nothing spectacular, and somewhat bland. Still, between Nieuwenhuis or Martinez as potential corner outfielders, and Havens or Tejada on the infield, they ought to be able to fill two more spots in that lineup with decent low cost regulars in coming years.

    So if a marquis bat becomes available for that lineup, or one more marquis arm for the top of that rotation, the Mets should be exploring it. Many times in the past it has been possible to say the Mets were more than one or two players away. In the near future, it looks like they really could be only one or two players away. The depth is starting to look pretty good, but it’s too much to ask David Wright to carry all of the load (both on and off the field) as both the focal point of that lineup and the face of the franchise.

    Somehow this front office seems to be more about the smaller under the radar moves adding up, and for the next year anyway, the Mets are probably in a retooling mode where it will be more about those smaller moves (the pen still needs some fixing for one), breaking in some of the younger talent, and getting their finances in order. But I do think they may be looking to make a big splash at some point in the near future, if they can find a way to add just one more imposing figure in the heart of that batting order.

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  8. Dave I says:

    I wasn’t clear from the description of Beltran if you were aware – per the terms of his contract, the Mets are not allowed to offer arbitration. Therefore if they are to get any future value from him, they need to pray he stays healthy and trade him during the season.

    I agree on the main points above. Last year the Mets found a starting catcher, first baseman, center fielder and two pitchers (Niese and Dickey). If they can find a second baseman (Murphy? Flores? Other?), a corner outfielder (from among Duda, Fernando, Evans, other?) and two more pitchers (from Mejia, Harvey, Gee, other?) this year, plus re-sign Reyes, 2011 will be quite a success in my eyes and we’ll be ready to compete in 2012.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      I literally mentioned this in like the 2nd sentence of the Beltran paragraph.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Yeah, when I read his comment I thought maybe you edited the article after his post. I thought it was quite clear that they cannot offer arbitration.

        However, I do think it’s a moot point. At his salary, I severely doubt they would offer arbitration even if they were allowed to.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Nah, not my style vivalajeter. Spelling/grammer, sure, but not that.

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      • Dave I says:

        Eric, you wrote: “The idea that the Mets might be able to extract more in compensatory draft picks than they could in prospects from a trade has to be thrown out the window. They won’t get high compensatory picks, and if they don’t seek a trade, they won’t be able to extract value from him beyond this season in any capacity.” I wanted to be clear the reason they can’t get high picks has nothing to do with Beltran’s value, whether he’d be a Class A or B free agent. Just another of Omar’s gifts that keep on giving…

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Dave, yes, but above that I specifically mentioned that they agreed not to offer arbitration. Obviously that’s the reason why. If they didnt include that provision, Type A or Type B would matter. Not sure what you’re reading. It’s all there and has been since 9 AM.

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    • Jason B says:

      Dave is right – if only those fifteen things fall into place, they will be ready to win 84 games in 2012.

      (I kid, but they’re not particularly close to contention right now, with Beltran, Bay, et al on the downhill sides of their respective careers and a starting rotation that doesn’t have anyone above a #3-caliber starter.)

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      • BlackOps says:

        Most projection systems have them pegged to win 80-82 games this year… it’s gonna be real tough for them to win 84 next year.

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  9. kampfer says:

    It will actually makes great sense for the Yankees. The Mets should send some cash along the way to net a A prospect in return — that extra wins are likely going to be THE difference.

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  10. BillWallace says:

    Good article Eric.

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  11. David G says:

    Wow!

    I’ve said all of these things at one point or another.

    Pelfrey is not an Ace and won’t be an Ace in the future. Is he a middle rotation pitcher? Maybe. I’ll take that but I don’t want to give him Oliver Perez money to do it. (Even though 12 Mil per isn’t off the reservation)

    K-Rod cannot be allowed to vest. Best option? TRADE HIM. Hey, guess what? He’s still a good relief pitcher and that won’t escape the notice of some teams. Maybe a team like the Yankees who have no fear of needing him to close games but want another great arm in the pen? Maybe someone like the Angels, who have options, though some are iffy?

    Beltran WILL be traded. I just hope we get a pitcher with reasonable potential in the package back. Pagan is fine in CF, Bay is paid to much to lose his job in LF and Martinez, Nieuwenhuis and Duda are all fighting for the same playing time in AAA.

    Options for SS in 2012 and beyond: Re-Sign Jose Reyes = Plan A. He’s the best available player, fans love him, great defense and his bat and legs can change games. Promote Ruben Tejada or Jordany Valdespin = Plan B/C. Jordany is hitting well in AA and has speed (not Jose speed but speed) and power (for a SS). Ruben Tejada is handling the bat well enough but still doesn’t have the power or speed (in my mind) to make it as an everyday player. Sign Jimmy Rollins = Plan D. I list this last because the fans hate him, he’s old, he’s streaky and I really don’t want him.

    Johan Santana Trade Makes SENSE. Sure, he’s an Ace and they are hard to find. You know what? So are top pitching prospects… apparently. Being that Mejia and Harvey are pretty much IT for the Mets. Johan healthy before the deadline might be the biggest trade-able player on the Mets and might get the most significant return.

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  12. Jason says:

    Man, if Boras really did see that the compensation for free agents leaving their teams would start to get exploited right about now SIX YEARS AGO, then he seriously is the best agent a player could ever have…

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  13. Mike Bravard says:

    Very good points and I agree on all of them.
    Especially keeping Reyes.
    I’m afraid the Mets will probably have to keep Beltran unless he shows he is healthy and productive and a that point they may be a bidder for his services…as is often the case with high ceiling and high injury risk players.
    Long term success will come from the farm system and I have all the respect in the world for DePodesta!

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  14. As a Mets fan I pretty much agree across the board. I hope the financial situation doesn’t hinder the Mets in trying to retain Reyes. I have a bad feeling they’ll be unable to keep him, and losing him would hurt a great deal for the Mets and their fans.

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  15. Paul says:

    The K-Rod option is semi performance incentivised in a certain situation. Like in the unlikely event he blows a save in the top of the 9th and the Mets come back in the bottom of the 9th to tie it….after which a new pitcher would come in the 10th…He would get a “game finished” then. :-P

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  16. Paul says:

    *Wouldn’t

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    • vivalajeter says:

      And that’s a situation that can get tricky at the end of the year. If he comes into a 2-1 game in September and he’s close to the 55 games finished, then he gives up a run to tie the score – his best course of action is to lose the game. If he only gives up one run, chances are the game goes into extra innings and he doesn’t get a ‘game finished’. The only way for him to get close to the option is to blow the game. For $17MM, that’s quite the conundrum.

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  17. Nathaniel Dawson says:

    “Much of his success stems from extremely low HR/FB ratios, which can be lower for groundball pitchers”

    Don’t you have that backward? From what I’ve looked at and what others have found, HR/FB ratio seems to go up as groundballs increase. Not that it changes by much — it’s doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong trend, but if there is any significance there, it’s toward lower ratios for flyball pitchers.
    .

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  18. Mike G says:

    The “bad PR” thing with K-Rod did indeed refer to future free agents more than the fan reaction. And, yes, the bigger issue is with the MLBPA. If the Mets push K-Rod to a middle relief role due to poor performance and he files a grievance, the Mets win. If they push him there if he’s doing well, they’ll win.

    Agree a trade’s a possibility.

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  19. Mike G says:

    12 pitchers finished 54+ games in 2010.

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