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Three Pressing Issues Facing the Mets Going Forward - Part One by Kevin Casey

Despite the recent news of Carlos Beltran's unilateral knee surgery (will be discussed in next post), the New York Mets took a step in the right decision when they signed Jason Bay to be their left fielder for the next four, possibly five seasons. At first I wasn't sure how I felt about the signing. I can tell you that I certainly wasn't excited like I was when the Mets signed Beltran and traded for Johan. Since the end of the dreadful 2009 season, I was a strong proponent of the Mets bringing in Matt Holliday to play left field for the foreseeable future. A power hitting left fielder is a hot commodity in today's alleged post-steroid era. I felt the Mets should bring in Holliday at all costs, and most likely overpay for him. Instead, Omar & Co. brought in Jason bay for 4 years/$66 million with a 5th year option, making the deal worth more than $80 million. On paper, Matt Holliday is a statistically superior to Jason Bay and by all accounts, Holliday is a leader and a guy you can build a team around. Over their careers, Holliday is .318/.387/.933 and Bay is .280/.376/.896 (Avg./OBP/OBPS). However, the main concern about Holliday is that he has a tremendous statistical split between his home and away offensive production, while Bay hits home and away, regardless of what ballpark he is playing in. Furthermore, Jason Bay was put into an extremely uncomfortable situation when he arrived in Boston, but replaced Manny Ramirez admirably with the Sox not missing a beat, and he handled the tough Boston media with grace. Jason Bay has proven that he can not only play, but produce under pressure, in a big market, and on a winning team while the jury is still out on Matt Holliday. After taking another look at the two, they are pretty much a statistical wash, but what makes the Bay signing better than the Holliday signing is the contracts that each signed. Both players will make roughly the same annual salary throughout the term of their contracts. However, the Mets are only obligated to Bay for a minimum of four year, most likely five, while the Cardinals have Matt Holliday under contract for eight years. Both players are bound to have a statistical decline during the course of their contracts, but the Mets shorter deal is what makes Bay the better signing. Although this signing was a step in the right direction for the Mets, if they plan on competing with the Phillies and Braves this season, Omar & Co. still have some pressing issues they must address before pitchers and catchers report in five weeks. I will address each issue in different posts, beginning with the most pressing issue; the Starting Rotation.

Starting Rotation

Projected - Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, John Maine, Jonathan Niese/Bobby Parnell/Nelson Figueroa/Fernando Nieve

Behind Johan Santana, there are nothing but question marks surrounding the remainder of the Mets rotation. Will they stay healthy? Will Mike Pelfrey continue to regress or finally show some progress? Will Oliver Perez finally reach his potential and finally harness all of his talent? Is Jonathan Niese a Major League pitcher? Can Bobby Parnell pitch 200-plus innings? One thing for sure is that if the Mets have a combination of Niese, Figueroa, and Nieve pitching games other than the occasional spot-starts, they are in serious trouble. A little south down the I-95 Corridor, the Philadelphia Phillies have potentially the best rotation in baseball, headlined by the second best pitcher in Baseball, Roy Halladay. Let's also not forget that they still have Cole Hamels as their number two, who, when healthy, is a Cy Young candidate. If the Mets want to compete with the Phillies this season, they MUST bring in a solid number two starter. Santana/Pelfrey is not in the same universe as Halladay/Hamels. So what should they do?

First, the Mets can look to the remaining free agent pitchers, however this option is not all that attractive. The best available pitchers, Erik Bedard and Ben Sheets, are both coming off serious injuries, and signing either of them alone would only bring more uncertainty to an already unstable rotation. According to numerous reports, both are seeking 2 year deals in the $12-15 million range, and that is a lot of money to risk on a pitcher whose only track record is an inability to stay healthy. On the other hand, when healthy, both guys are number one starters on any team. I think the Mets should kick the tires on both, and if either can be had for an incentive-laden deal (say $4 million guaranteed with another $4 in incentive bonuses), then Omar should bring one of them to Citi Field. If they do go this route, the Mets MUST also sign another lower-tier pitcher from the free agent market as an insurance policy. This pitcher must be an innings eater who has proven that he can make 30-32 starts per season. The top candidate that fits this profile is Joel Piniero. Piniero has a track record of being a durable pitcher and he is coming off of a 15-win season with the Cardinals. He can also be had at a reasonable price; 1-year $7 million with a 2nd year option or two years for $12 million. All reports seem to indicate that the Mets are aggressively pursuing him, and that a deal may be imminent. My main concern with Piniero is that he is a system pitcher and once he leaves Dave Duncan, he will fall apart. Filling the rotation void is an option, but not a very good option. IF the Mets go this route, they MUST sign a combination of Sheets/Bedard AND Piniero, not either or.

Another avenue the Mets can explore to fill their need for a top-line starter, and the best avenue, is via trade. Since the Cincinatti Reds signed Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban Phenom, many people have speculated that they are looking to move Aaron Harrang and Bronson Arroyo and some of the same people have further speculated that the Mets are the top candidate to land one of the two. The internet is filled with proponents of such a deal, especially Matthew Cerrone of Metsblog.com who feels that the Mets could reach a deal with the Reds to bring both Bronson Arroyo and Second Baseman Brandon Phillips to Queens for the 2010 season. I am extremely skeptical that the Mets have the pieces to pull off such a deal, and even by the slim chance that they could, the Mets should adhere to the old Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) adage. While I do believe that the Reds will move either Arroyo or Harrang, not both, I am not sold on the fact that the Mets are the leading candidate to land one of the two pitchers. If and when either one of these two become available, there will be a list of 20 or so teams that would be chomping at the bit; the majority of who can offer the Reds a better deal than the Mets can. One idea surrounding a Mets-Reds deal is that the Mets could land Arroyo and Phillips for some prospects and Luis Castillo. First off, the Mets have been trying to move Castillo since last offseason. The Reds do not want Castillo, no one does. The idea that the Reds would move two of their best players for some mid-level prospects and a bag of balls is ridiculous. The only chance the Mets have to pull off such a deal would be to bring in a third team, and even if they did that, they would raid the Mets already depleted farm system and moving Castillo would still present a huge problem. The most likely outcome of this far-fetched Reds rumor is that if Phillips is available, he will land in Atlanta for Jair Jurrjens (talked about since the Winter Meetings), and one of the two pitchers ending up with either the Dodgers, Angels, A's, or Giants for prospects. The Mets have a slim chance of prying Arroyo away from the Reds if they get desperate to move him, but the cost may be too high for a number 3 guy who hasn't put together a full season of success. The better option may be Harrang, in that he is the number 2-type that the Mets are desperately seeking right now. The downside is that Harrang has health issues and after all of the injuries of 2009, I don't see the Mets risking prospects to bring in another health risk when they can sign a health risk off the free agent market for money alone (Bedard/Sheets/Smoltz).

The best pitcher that could be had either via trade or through free agency is Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs. It is obvious that the Cubs are exploring possible matches to move him, but reports are stating that he is threatening that he will invoke his no-trade clause in any deal because he wants to stay in Chicago. Despite this threat, if the Mets can reach a deal and then offer him a lucrative contract in return for agreeing to the trade, he can be had. He is the only realistic option that could allow the Mets to compete with the Phillies and Braves this season. Also, he will cost the Mets less in terms of prospects than would either Arroyo or Harrang because he is a trade and sign deal, Ala Johan Santana. This trade and sign issue will also limit the competitors to only big-market teams, the majority of which do not have rotation needs. Omar & Co. should do all they can to put Carlos Zambrano in a Mets uniform for 2010, and if they cannot, they should sign a combination of Bedard/Sheets AND Piniero and hope that they hold up until next season's pitcher-filled free agency period.

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