Monday, January 23, 2006

Off-season Summary

Although I am, essentially, on hiatus during the off-season, an e-mail from a friend provoked a lengthy response from me that my friend urged was "post-worthy." So, see below Mets Analyst take on the Mets off-season moves and prospects. This was written before the Benson deal. I'll have a post-Benson update posted later this week (as my friend has asked me about that as well):

Hi [friend]. I can't wait for opening day either. I also share some of your other concerns. It is hard to believe that they could not have done better had they waited to pull the trigger on Cameron. The Red Sox and A's both need centerfielders, and the rumors about Tampa Bay's Joey Gathright have been incessant. Cameron's contract was not that big, and the market has moved up significantly since then, so I think he ought to have real value, particularly given his hitting tear before the injury. It is possible that his value declined because of the injury and because of the unCameronlike defensive year he had in CF in '04. Perhaps teams were leery of buying into the downside. Much as I like him, I do not object to moving him ---- he's wasted somewhat in right and they could better deploy those resources ---- but I do question the value they got in return.

In particular, I still don't understand adding Nady and not trading either him or Victor Diaz. They are VERY similar players. Diaz has a little more power, Nady a little better on-base ability, but they both are decent tooled defensively but not very good outfielders with offensive potential who hit from the right side, are not a threat on the basepaths and might develop into offensive forces. But there is no offense/defense or left/right platoon here. It is a question of figuring out who is better, and then the other guy is wasted. Doesn't make sense to me. (It's like having Matsui and Keppinger, except not as bad). Of the two, the media seem to be assuming the job is Nady's, and maybe the trade signalled the Mets don't think Diaz can be a major league regular (he does swing and miss a lot). Maybe they think Diaz needs competition for motivation? Nady was the better prospect of the two, but is 2 or 3 years older than Diaz and has not done it at the major league level for longer. Personally, I think there is a better chance of Diaz being a solid regular than for Nady, though probably a bigger chance of a wash out as well. Either way, I wish they had a complimentary left-handed outfield bat. Tike Redman and Endy Chavez meet only the left-handed and outfield part of that qualification.

I'm also not thrilled about Lo Duca. From an outside perspective, I would actually expect our back up, Ramon Castro, to be better next year. Why replace our aging, defensively challenged catcher with an aging, defensively challenged catcher. Meantime, Benjie Molina is still unsigned. Again, perhaps there was something going on there that we don't know about, but it seems certain that the talent gap between Molina and LoDuca in the next two years will be much greater than the $$ gap between them.

As you may know, my big issue is second base. Rightfield and catcher were not really a problem for the team last year. 1B and 2B were, as the Mets got the worst offense of any team in the league at both positions last year by a wide margin, without even getting good 2B defense. Delgado is a huge upgrade---alone worth 3 or 4 extra wins. To me, far and away the big move of the offseason---though, obviously, they would have been a lot better off offering the extra few million and signing him last year. At 2B, they have done nothing (well, they have now signed Brett Boone to a minor league deal---a reasonable gamble, but he is probably done). Their reported efforts to pay half of Matsui's salary in a trade, leaving the other team to pay $3.5 or $4 million are a joke. Matsui would struggle to make a team at the major league minimum, and much better players (e.g., Grudzelanek) signed for much less. He is going to have to be a Cedeno dump, i.e., paying all of the salary above the major league minimum. But, in my view, they must bite that bullet. It is a sunk cost, and actually playing the guy killed the team last year and, barring vast improvement (which rarely happens with middle infielders over 30), he would kill us again. Why they spent money on Chad Bradford (who can't even get Endy Chavez out (those he is death to righthanders)) instead of Grudzelanek is beyond me. Grudzelanek is old (35) and may be due for a collapse, but he led the league in DP's last year and hit well and signed for one year cheap. He would really have to fall off a cliff not to help the Mets next year, and, if he did, you could go to Anderson Hernandez or Keppinger in June, instead of April as they likely will now. (My bet is that they will, eventually, bite the bullet on Matsui, only too late to do something else before the season starts). Maybe A. Hernandez can manage a .700 OPS (I like him and that would thrill me), but I'm not confident. Look for them to end up trading prospects for Grudzelanek in midseason, sigh. Even with our big bats, every spot in the order matters.

I too was surprised on the giving up Seo for what's his name from L.A.. The fact is that this regime has never liked Seo and, obviously, doesn't think he can approach last year's performance. If they're right, it will be a good trade, as the guy we got from L.A. (Sanchez) is pretty good and will help eat appearances in the bullpen, but Seo looked to me like our third best starter. . . . So now we have Martinez, Glavine, Benson, Trachsel and Zambrano, with Heilman in the pen and Bannister at AAA. Hmmm. I think Trachsel could have a Leiteresque decline and Benson's second-half collapse is a big concern. I do think Bannister and Heilman provide some depth, but we will need to be lucky with our pitching (most teams have to say that).

I like the bench moves the Mets made, though it seems to me they have too many players now. Franco and Valentin should be an upgrade on Offerman and Miguel Cairo. Still we have: Castro, Franco, Valentin, Woodward, Nady (or Diaz) and Redman. That configuration would leave Chavez and Anderson Hernandez and Jeff Keppinger in the minors, give us "only" 11 pitchers, has Matsui as the 2B with only Woodward to back him up, and have Redman as the only left-handed bat off the bench. So some adjustments still seem likely. If Matsui is benched, that adds a left-handed bat, but also takes up a roster spot (as it would mean Hernandez or Keppinger was starting) and Matsui isn't much of a "bat." I would be shocked if the Mets go with 10 pitchers, even 11 would surprise me after April.

The starters are: Martinez, Glavine, Benson, Trachsel and Zambrano.
The bullpen is: Wagner, Sanchez, Heilman, Bradford and whoever else makes the team from Fortunato (promising guy who hurt his back last spring and missed the season), Heath Bell, Juan Padilla (who pitched great last year), some guy they got in the Rule V draft and who knows who else. To me, Padilla should be on the team, but I see a problem without another decent lefty other than Wagner. Heilman can get lefties out, but Bradford and Sanchez, both death to righties, allow lefties to hit over .300 (as does Schmoll, the other guy who came over from the Dodgers, a sidearming righthander--a poor man's Bradford). Either Randolph is going to have to use Wagner in the 8th sometimes as lefty matchups dictate and let someone else finish (doubtful), or we need a left-handed specialist. Bell and Padilla certainly should be in the majors in '06, but that gets us to an 11-man staff with only one lefty in the pen. . . . .

Overall, though, I am optimistic. The Mets offense should be much better thanks to the change at 1B, and a decline for Floyd and an improvement for Beltran should offset. Wright and Reyes should continue to improve, C should be a wash and, notwithstanding their lack of moves to date, I can't believe we will not upgrade 2b offensively from last year at some point, since we were so horrible there. Defensively, we slip a bit because of Delgado, but with Castro likely playing more, Reyes and Wright likely improving, Beltran being healthy and a change at 2B, we could net out better, and should certainly remain solid. The bullpen looks much better than last year. Bert was great, but Wagner/Sanchez would be hard-pressed not to be an improvement on Looper/Hernandez, and Heilman as the number three guy all year and the back of the pen both look better than last year.

The rotation, as you say, is the question, but, that is often the nature of MLB, isn't it? And veteran guys are less likely to be surprisingly bad (or even surprisingly hurt) than young pitchers who, as you know, will break your heart. I think Bannister will be ready to step into the back of the rotation if we face an injury. Pedro's toe is being exaggerated (I'm hoping) to provide cover for keeping him out of the World Classic. Unlike last year, the rest of the division has gotten worse, rather than better, and with our run differential last year, we really should have won more like 89 games and suffered some bad luck (and some bad looper). With all the tinkering and waiting, it is easy to forget that getting Delgado and Wagner added more talent to the Major League roster than one is usually able to do in a single offseason (if not quite as much as Beltran and Martinez did). So, I do think there are reasons for optimism.

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