Eighty three victories and one solid foundation later, the New Mets are leaps and bounds better off than they were one year ago today, when they were the Old Mets. But two disastrous road trips and one slightly disfunctional batting order means that the task at hand is not yet done.
I think I've found a way to get Griffey and Bonds...and we wouldn't have to give up that much!- George Costanza
It's everyone's dream to play GM...and I am fully aware that every blogger in America will blog a plan to revive the fortunes of their favorite baseball team as Archie Bunker and his army have already done.
Heck, Joel Sherman has even put together his own plan. He always has to beat me to the punch...showoff.
Anyhoo, there are a million stories in the naked city...this one's mine. My prescription for the 2006 Mets:
First Base: When Carlos Delgado spurned the Mets and Omar Minaya for being "too latin" (what does that mean, anyway?) I thought that Doug Mientkiewicz might be a blessing in disguise.
Turns out, maybe not.
With the heart of the Mets order ordinary as hearts of lineups go, the Mets need a power hitter at first base. Now I like Mike Jacobs and he's earned a chance to be a regular in the Mets lineup. But if 2006 is the year the Mets have been targeting to take the next step toward unseating the Braves, then it makes sense to at least go after the most powerful free agent first sacker available: Paul Konerko.
Konerko will come off two straight seasons of 40+ home runs, playing in a ballpark that is deeper down the lines, and comparable in the power alleys to Shea Stadium. His numbers have been fairly consistant since 1999, barring an off year in 2003. He's a 30 HR, 100 RBI guy at the very worst, and he'll give you an OBP of about .360. That's infinitely better than anything the Mets have gotten from the first base position since Keith Hernandez, and in terms of power, better than anyone at first since Dave Kingman!
But Metstradamus, Mike Jacobs is the future, and with the way he's started off his career, he deserves a chance to be a part of the present! Wow, my conscience is getting feisty! Yes, you're correct. And if the Mets can't get Konerko (which, if Houston gets involved and dangles their short left field porch, I don't think the Mets have a chance), then I say yes, Jacobs is your first baseman. But there will be more on Mr. Jacobs later.
Second base: Second base is a wasteland in terms of the free agents available at that position. And since the Mets would be silly to sign a marquee shortstop such as Nomar Garciaparra and shift Jose Reyes to second base again, the easy answer is to promote Anderson Hernandez to take over. This brings two questions:
- What do you do with Kaz Matsui? And...
- Do the Mets trust Hernandez enough to let him take over on an everyday basis?
And of course, there's always the chance that Alfonso Soriano will come via trade. But here is the problem with getting a major chip at second base, or even a Loretta or Castillo: The Mets have prospects at second base in the minors (Hernandez, Keppinger). It would be silly to devote a major part of your payroll towards second base when you have prospects there, while first base outside of Jacobs is a black hole organization wise, and there is a free agent out there who will not cost anybody on the farm.
Of course when all is said and done, I'd like to see Anderson Hernandez get a fair shot at playing second. But I fear he might not be ready to bat second. And the Mets are going to have to seriously upgrade the offense at other positions to be able to carry Hernandez in the 8 hole to the point that anything you get from him offensively is a bonus...another reason to go for the gusto and sign Konerko, and maybe another reason to trade Cameron for Loretta.
The Manny Factor: You know good and well that Omar Minaya is going to try to make this happen again. The questions are as follows:
- How much are the Mets going to have to give up? Milledge?
- Is Mike Cameron still tradeable if he doesn't go for Loretta?
- Does Cliff Floyd have to go in the deal since neither Floyd nor Manny is capable of playing right field?
- Would the Red Sox even want Floyd in a deal?
Not to keep picking on the San Diego Padres, but another option might be free agent Brian Giles. His power numbers are down from what they were in Pittsburgh, but he's a .300 hitter with a .424 OBP this season (he walks a ton!)...and don't forget that the right center power alley is brutal at Petco...that might be incentive for the El Cajon native to want to go somewhere else (check out Giles' home/road splits this season and you'll see an average 60-70 points higher on the road). And in Giles, while you don't get quite the production of a Manny Ramirez, you also are spared "Manny being Manny", if you feel that's an issue. And, you have a left fielder playing left field, and a right fielder playing right field.
Jacque Jones of the Twins, who actually has better career numbers away from the Metrodome, might be a possibility if Mike Cameron can't make it back to full strength.
Or if you're comfy having a $119 million player as your 2 hole hitter, you could do this:
Of course, this would make it imperitave that Cameron, and quite possibly Kaz Matsui are wheeled in salary dumps...easier said than done. But don't forget that Piazza's 15 million is no longer a factor in 2006 so the payroll isn't raised all that much if say Giles and Konerko sign for say $10 million this season (and their salaries escalate in subsequent seasons). And it would also mean that the Mets could possibly find it easier to play a rookie like Hernandez at second base and in the eighth slot of the batting order, instead of the second slot.
You might think it's a little too much to get both Konerko and Giles to play at Shea...you might say that the development of young players like Mike Jacobs would be stunted. But let's be honest...when you come out of a game started by Hector Carrasco and the only two runs batted in are by Marlon Anderson and Tom Glavine (it doesn't matter who was injured), guess what? It's time to do something drastic with the offense...and better to do it now than after Pedro gets old. And you can say all you want about how pitching was the backbone of the Mets success in the eighties, and you would be right. But don't forget that some of those lineups were so talented that Howard Johnson batted seventh! The Mets can return to those days without going after that one monster stick.
Catcher: Names like Ramon Hernandez will be thrown around. There will be talk of a Mike Piazza return. There will even be talk of another marquee catcher who will come and replace Piazza, but more on that later (that's called a tease). If you bring in Konerko and Giles, then having an offensive catcher becomes less of a priority. And for those worried that bringing in Konerko stunts the development of Jacobs, well fear not because he can catch too. A platoon of Jacobs' lefty stick and Ramon Castro's defense and clutch hitting would fit in nicely here...and the way Jacobs is hitting, he should be the dominant part of the platoon.
That's your genius plan for Jacobs? But don't you want to have him at first base and avoid another Piazza type controversy My conscience likes Mike Jacobs, what can I say? OK. First off, there isn't going to be a Piazza type controversy. Moving Mike Piazza to first base was teaching an old dog a new trick. Jacobs is far from an old dog, and catching is an old trick for him. Now I don't know how good a defensive catcher Jacobs is...but he certainly is an upgrade from what Piazza has become. And when it comes to upgrading the offense...what would you rather have: Konerko and a Jacobs/Castro split (with Jacobs getting the majority of the at-bats), or Jacobs and Ramon Hernandez? But again, to be clear, if Konerko doesn't sign with the Mets, then the plan shifts to having Jacobs at first and upgrading the offense at the catcher position (and in the process make sure that Castro doesn't tire out playing 130 games, which is a concern).
The Bullpen: Ah yes, the pen. If the Mets do what they've done in years past, they'll sign a whole slew of older, washed up relievers, and hope one of them stick like Roberto Hernandez did in 2005. They will also go overseas and find the next Dae Sung Sisk.As we've figured out this season, that doesn't always work. And we also know that Braden Looper will not close in 2006. Luckily there are options. There's Billy Wagner, if you want to delve into the elite category. But if Konerko and Giles are signed, then Wagner may be out of the Mets' price range for a 34 year old closer. But B.J. Ryan will be a free agent, as well as Kyle Farnsworth. Now for the $10 million that Wagner will no doubt command...here's an idea so crazy it just might work: sign both Ryan and Farnsworth, for that same $10 million combined if that's what it takes. Ryan becomes your closer, Farnsworth: your eighth inning guy. It might not cost all $10 million, but remember, the Mets are still in a position to have to overpay for these two...especially Farnsworth (would you want to leave an organization that made Jorge Sosa a 13-3 pitcher?) Expensive, yes. Worth it? Check the games that the bullpen has cost the Mets and you tell me.
If Braden Looper was interested in accepting a lesser "right-handed specialist" role with the Mets, I don't think anyone would mind. But if there's a team out there willing to offer him a role as closer, and pay him as one, then I wish him all the best. And besides, it's time to show some faith in the farm system and give Royce Ring a fair shot...especially if he is being groomed as the closer of the future. Heath Bell and Tim Hamulack also deserve a look in the spring to join Juan Padilla, who has impressed mightily this season, and perhaps even Roberto Hernandez for one more season. With the starting rotation as durable as it's been, guys like Bell and Hamulack will not have to shoulder much of the load. Speaking of the starters...
The Rotation: Pedro, Glavine, Benson. Those three are sure bets for next season.
Jae Seo is also a sure bet, unless...with his excellent second half of the season, this might be the best time to trade Seo while his value is at his highest. If free agency falls through, it may become necessary to use Seo as a bargaining chip. You could never use Seo before as a chip, and after this off-season, maybe never again.
With all of this money I have earmarked towards the lineup and the bullpen, it's probably time to bid adieu to Steve Trachsel (unless Glavine decides to retire or the Mets wheel him, which is not likely to happen). It would probably be in Trachsel's best interest to be a second or third starter elsewhere than to be number five here.And it also may be in the Mets best interest to either give Aaron Heilman a fair shot to grab the number 5 spot post-arm angle adjustment, or keep Heilman as your eighth inning guy and have Victor Zambrano keep the number 5 spot warm for Yusmeiro Petit, who started to tear up the International League after his call up including a 14 strikeout performance in the playoffs.
(Marty Noble, who writes for the New York Mets website, says that "the mets have starting pitching they need to find out about, like Kaz Ishii". Metstradamus, who writes for this rinky-dink website, wonders what season Marty Noble was watching in 2005.)
Of course, A.J. Burnett is out there, and would be a nice fit. Of course, the Mets recieved boffo starting pitching this season and look where it got them. So expect the emphasis to lie somewhere else other than the rotation...especially since initial rumors have Burnett going to the Blue Jays or the Nationals.
So Metstradamus, you're banking on a lot of free agent signings. If these guys decide that Shea isn't for them, are there trades out there? There better be, because the Mets may still be in the position where they have to overpay to get free agents because of their second-tier status. It's one thing to overpay for Pedro Martinez or Carlos Beltran...but do the Mets want to overpay for Paul Konerko and Brian Giles?
Manny is out there...but wave goodbye to Lastings Milledge if that happens. If the Mets must give up Milledge, let it be for a player the calibre of Adam Dunn. Indications are however that the Reds aren't letting go of Dunn, but would talk about Austin Kearns for some pitching, which the Mets have a surplus of. For second base there's also Mark Lorreta, as mentioned earlier, or a guy like Adam Kennedy, who the Angels might wheel to make room for prospect Howie Kendrick, or even to give Chone Figgins a steady position. This is where Seo becomes a factor.
Bullpen trade options are dicey, because since baseball is thin at relief teams will hold on to any special talent that is out there. Maybe a J.C. Romero or a Luis Vizcaino would be available depending on their contract status, but don't expect these players to come cheap if they are available at all.
Pudge Rodriguez is another name that would fit along the lines of Minaya's latin branding of the Mets...a big time name that young latin players would use as a reason for signing with the Mets...just as 16 year old phenom Fernando Martinez cited Pedro and Beltran as reasons he would sign with the Mets. And as for Pudge, it seems that he's crying for a life raft out of Detroit. However, I fear that Pudge is a prime candidate to become the next Robbie Alomar.
As for other first basemen, well you know that Jacobs is my first choice after Konerko. Mike Sweeney has back issues. Todd Helton is a product of Coors Field. Sean Casey and Lyle Overbay would be expensive, and are lighter sticks.
Anything beyond that, well Omar is going to have to be creative. Peter Gammons thinks that a Beltran-for-Manny swap has life (in which case, the Mets get the top prospect...not the Red Sox), and that Carlos Delgado could be swapped to the Mets. That's a little too creative...that's like "Twilight Zone" creative. But you know...creative. Omar's the one they pay, not me.
The key is to be dilligent and decisive in wooing the free agents that you want. Joe Torre called Mike Mussina the day after beating the Mets in the 2000 World Series! It's going to take that kind of dedication to nail down who you want.
So what will actually happen? Paul Konerko to me is an absolute must have for the Mets. But I no longer think that they will push hard to get that done, since Konerko would likely be headed to a short porch like Houston anyway if the White Sox let him go. But even though big boys like the Red Sox and Angels are throwing their hats into the ring for him, I think it would behoove the Mets to at least throw the old college try at Konerko. Giles? That's a stretch. He's a native of the San Diego area and pined to play there when he was with the Pirates. The Mets have to hope that the ballpark factor is enough to make him want to leave.
Bullpen alterations are a must (priority number one), and I'm sure Wagner is target number one. I think the Mets will strike out on that front and get Ryan. If the Mets get Ryan, Farnsworth becomes a luxury. If not, Farnsworth becomes a necessity. So in the end, I hope that at the very least, Konerko and B.J. Ryan make the trip to Shea as free agents...I think that Giles and Farnsworth may be necessities rather than luxuries for the Mets, but they're not going to be viewed that way. Instead, I expect that Minaya's plan to attract Latin American icons will move him to push for Manny being Manny at Shea's left field, and I think he'll look into Pudge Rodriguez (scary).
So let's review...here's my 25 man roster for 2006
2B Loretta (for Cameron)
SS Reyes (duh!)
3B Wright (double duh!)
Castro, Anderson, Woodward, Diaz, Hernandez
Three of the following: Hamulack, R. Hernandez, Heath Bell or Zambrano (who might be useful as a long man until he's traded for a couple of cheeseburgers)
So there it is...hope you like it. If you don't...well I'm not sure I do either...but it's what I've got. If you're going to build around Pedro, then build around him. The Mets have progressed in 2005. Maybe not as much as we would have liked, but I think enough to go for the gusto. And as long as there's a way to do it without giving up a lot of your farm, then Mets brass owes it to their fans to try.
Have you forgotten anything? Oh yeah...can Don Baylor come back as hitting coach? (Editor's note: soon after I wrote this came an announcement about Don Baylor's employment status. Freaky!)