Mets Make Moves To Salvage Mess

This column was originally published on on Dec. 7, 2011.

The Mets delivered their fans a dagger on Sunday night when they failed to meet or exceed the Marlins’ offer for Jose Reyes, and on Wednesday, Reyes was introduced as a member of the Mets’ division rival.

Right after the Mets watched their franchise shortstop, who has been with the organization for 12 years, leave through free agency, Sandy Alderson spoke with the media and made the Mets’ finances known and what people could expect from the team in the near future as they play with the payroll of a small-market team in the country’s biggest market. Then on Tuesday night, Alderson went on a spending spree and changed the look of the 2012 Mets with a pair of free agents and a trade with the Giants.

With all of the madness of the Winter Meetings, Mets beat reporter and Mets blogger Rich Coutino joined me for an epic email discussion to talk about the Mets’ early offseason moves and the impacts of the series of deals they made on Tuesday night at the Winter Meetings in Dallas.

Keefe: I told Sweeny Murti on Monday (in an epic email discussion for Friday on that I made sure I called my dad to thank him for being a Yankees fan and for raising me as a Yankees fan following the latest Mets debacle with Jose Reyes signing with the Miami Marlins (typing Miami Marlins is going to take some getting used to).

All season Mets fans were dragged along like a gullible group chasing a $20 bill in a parking lot that’s attached to a fishing line. They figured that the Mets refusal to turn Reyes into a few pieces for the future meant that they would be re-signing their franchise shortstop, who they originally signed in 1999. Now Mets fan are left with nothing, and while watching Mets fans agonize over the state of their team never gets old and being obnoxious to my friends who are Mets fan, even this is a little much.

Back in May I wrote about Yankees fans being fortunate that the Steinbrenners are the owners of the Yankees and not the Wilpons, and on Monday you wrote about Sandy Alderson doing the best job he can under this Mets ownership. But now, just two months removed from another disastrous season in Queens, the Mets are likely headed for another one in 2012 with the other four teams in the NL East in a much better position than them.

So what is going through the minds of Mets fans right now and those that cover the team?

Coutinho: I honestly thought once they did not trade Reyes at the deadline, they would make every effort to sign him. Sure, letting the market set itself was a risky strategy, but when you really think about it, the market on Reyes for whatever reason did come down from the “Carl Crawford” plateau. And then came the Marlins, who I honestly never thought would top $100 million, but they did. I do believe the Mets had a dollar amount in mind and it was five years for $85 million. The reps for Reyes always felt he would get a $100-million deal and given the fact the Marlins and Mets were the only suitors, I give them so much credit for getting this done for Jose.

Reyes is a superstar worthy of this money when you consider guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp have all signed bigger contracts recently. I think the thing that upsets Mets fans is that they had Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez and now they don’t have any of them, even though most had accepted the fact they would lose two of the three. They understood K-Rod was a money issue and Beltran did return them a big-time prospect in Zach Wheeler. But losing all three is too much to swallow and that is why Mets fans are so upset.

Keefe: Sandy Alderson addressed the media and gave the public an idea as to what kind of financial situation the Mets are dealing with as they move forward. And even after all of this, Bud Selig is still allowing the Wilpons to own the Mets and to continue to destroy the franchise. Now the Mets will be playing in the country’s biggest market with a small market payroll.

I guess the next most logical thing to ask is what do the Mets do with David Wright? The Mets are sort of in this weird place where they need to be in complete rebuilding mode, but they really aren’t. They still have Wright and Jason Bay and Johan Santana on the payroll, and there isn’t much they can do regarding the latter two right now.

Wright is probably the last thing keeping Mets fans from completely losing hope and from the Mets ticket offices from being overtaken and the front office being held hostage. But is there really any point for the Mets to hold on to Wright any longer? The Mets aren’t exactly in a position to win right now and don’t look like they will be in one within the next few years. The Phillies are already a contender, as are the Braves and the Nationals and Marlins are on the rise.

Should the Mets just say, “Eff it!” and move Wright and rebuild this entire thing?

Coutinho: I would say no. Coming off an injury season, David Wright is severely undervalued now and will not get the prospects back that he would in the middle of the season when teams are in desperate need and David has produced his customary numbers.

The other reason is the Mets are in a tough situation, but not a hopeless on. Look at the Diamondbacks, who lost 90 games in 2010 and won their division with over 90 wins in 2011, and they did it with the same cast of offensive players (maybe less if you consider Stephen Drew was hurt most of the year). How did they do it then? They got Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson to pitch at an All-Star level and had a great closer in J.J. Putz, who was finally healthy for them. Nobody and I mean nobody picked them to win the NL West. It is a good blueprint for the Mets to follow but certain things must happen.

Johan Santana must return to the form of being a pitcher with a 3.00 ERA or lower and they must have a second pitcher to give them a solid 3.30 ERA season. R.A. Dickey did that last year while Jonathan Niese, though inconsistent, has the stuff to be that type of pitcher. Clearly, there are a lot of ifs and quite frankly, they’ll also need a reliable closer. My feeling is you start the season hoping this could work and if it doesn’t, you look at Plan B and around the break you try to pry prospects from teams and in the process, shed more payroll.

There’s also the additional wild card team in 2012, which can put additional teams in the playoff picture. That could mean the Mets might have more available trading partners at midseason than they normally would. In regards to the Mets’ payroll, $100 million, to me, is the minimum it should be at in this market. The chances are it will be a tad lower than that on Opening Day, but a good start could entice the Mets to add on if the situation presents itself. I try to compare the Mets’ situation to other companies that might have lost $70 million last year. Do you think any of them would add employees or would they cut payroll? Now it is fair to concede with a cut payroll, but expectations should be lowered as well in regards to both wins on the field and ticket sales.

The Mets are in a tough spot here and granted much of it is self-inflicted, but Sandy is playing this correctly. He can’t just do things because the fans demand it with the way things change in a hurry in this sport. Who ever thought that Texas would be in back-to-back World Series in a league that houses the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays? Who thought a Cardinals team with a payroll less than $100 million could win it all when most left them for dead in late August? Sandy can’t afford to make a move now because he lost Reyes. He must resist the temptation to overreact to the reaction.

Keefe: I’m sure Mets fans appreciate your optimism.

If Santana does come back and pitch the way he has in the past and you couple that with R.A. Dickey’s 2011 season, then you have something working at the top of the rotation. No, it won’t be easy for the Mets to score runs, but if they can build a stable rotation and one that has a true ace then maybe, just maybe they can hang around during the summer.

At the same time, I’m hoping Johan comes back and is healthy and dominant and the Mets decide that paying him to play for a non-contender isn’t worth it, and the Yankees take him off their hands and relieve them of some payroll. A healthy Santana behind CC Sabathia? Yes, please. But I know that many people are skeptical about what kind of pitcher Santana will be when he returns to the mound, and if he will be anywhere near the pitcher he once was with the stuff he once had, or if he will become the left-handed version of Freddy Garcia.

There were reports on Tuesday that the Mets were part of Mark Buehrle’s list of the final five teams he would sign with, and then there were reports and direct quotes from Sandy Alderson that disputed those claims with Alderson saying that the Mets would not be in contention to sign Buehrle. So maybe this is just Buehrle’s agent (who Alderson didn’t know the name of) using the New York market to drive up the price for his client?

This is good news for me since I’m still holding out hope that he joins the Yankees rotation, but it’s not good news for Mets fans, who might have been expecting the ownership to treat them to one solid free agent this offseason.

Last season the Mets rotation was pretty healthy with five starters making 26-plus starts, and Dillon Gee and Jonathon Niese combining for 53 starts and proving to be viable young arms for the Mets’ future. Aside from Gee, Niese, Dickey, Pelfrey and Capuano, the Mets only used four other starters (Chris Young, D.J. Carrasco, Chris Schwinden and Miguel Batista).

And in the bullpen, after trading Francisco Rodriguez, the Mets juggled the closer role between Bobby Parnell and Jason Isringhausen in an effort to transition Parnell into the role as the closer of the future, but it didn’t really go according to plan.

What do you think the Mets rotation will look like heading into spring training and the season? Who is the next Chris Young or Chris Capuano for them in a low-risk, high-reward arm? And how do they rebuild the back end of the bullpen?

Coutinho: From what I understand, the Mets inquired about Buehrle, but the price was too high. I think he is an absolute horse and would be a great NL pitcher and no worse than a No. 2. If I were the Marlins I’d go with him over C.J. Wilson or Albert Pujols if I could only sign one more free agent. As far as the Mets rotation, I see Santana, Niese, Dickey, Gee, and possibly Pelfrey as No. 5 starter if they tender him.

As far as a reach with starters, why not Rich Harden? I love his stuff and with last year’s high ERA he might come cheap. His K/IP ratio was over one per inning, so I think he might be a low-cost, high-reward type of pitcher the Mets could snare.

I do think the Mets will get a closer, but do not think it will be one of the big three left (K-Rod, Francisco Cordero or Ryan Madson). I think their hope is to stockpile guys relievers like Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Chad Qualls or Todd Coffey and develop the back end that way. I thought Jonathan Broxton would have been a good gamble for them, but I agree the Royals overpaid for him at $4 million.

Aside from the relievers they obtain, I think Tim Brydak, Manny Acosta, Pedro Beato, and Bobby Parnell are in the mix as well. Beato and Parnell were spotty at best, but both have live arms and are worth another look. Brydak was solid vs. lefties all year and Acosta turned heads in the season’s final two months by finally realizing you have to throw a breaking pitch even if you possess a plus fastball. (Take note, Bobby Parnell).

The thing I noticed in second half last year after K-Rod left, is that the Mets crashed and burned in so many games from the seventh inning on, and you know what I say about a bullpen, Neil: a good one can cover up weaknesses, whether they be light hitting or starters not going deep in games. On the other hand, a bad bullpen can make every blemish an eyesore and I firmly believe in today’s game, the bullpen can make or break a team no matter how much hitting you possess.

The Cardinals refurbished their bullpen at the deadline, and so did Texas and not coincidentally, both teams made it to the Fall Classic.

Keefe: The Mets were busy on Tuesday night. First they signed Jon Rauch to a two-year deal worth $12 million and they followed that up by trading Angel Pagan to the Giants for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez. Then they went on and signed Frank Francisco to a two-year deal. And just after hours after you gave me your take on what the Mets’ game plan should be to bolster their pitching staff, your theory on the Mets’ plan to rebuild the bullpen by stockpiling arms couldn’t have ended up being more accurate.

I think the trade of Pagan was a great move since both teams traded guys off down years in hopes of rejuvenating them with a chance of scenery. I don’t think Pagan is actually as good as he was two years ago, and I’m a big fan of Torres’ even if he’s getting up there in age. I haven’t seen as much of Ramon Ramirez since his departure from Boston and the AL East a couple years ago, but I know he has the ability to be dominant in the back of the bullpen and was for long stretches of time in the best division in baseball. Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco also have the ability to be lights out, but they both have had their fair share of struggles the last few years.

Coutinho: I think the Mets got better on Tuesday night. Don’t get me wrong I would rather have Jose Reyes, but Sandy Alderson really improved the team with these deals.

Rauch and Francisco have ability and pitching late innings in the AL East does test your ability. The trade of Pagan was necessary because there were rumblings in the Mets clubhouse that Pagan’s attitude changed dramatically in the second half of the year after the exodus of his mentor, Carlos Beltran. Torres is not the athletic specimen that Pagan is, but he is a much better defensive centerfielder and a great off-the-field guy. He has speed and could bat leadoff although the Mets may have other ideas about the leadoff spot.

The crown jewel though could be Ramirez who has a nasty slider and good heat. More importantly, the Mets have rebuilt their bullpen with three guys that could be penciled into the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Add in Tim Brydak as a lefty specialist and Manny Acosta, who impressed in August and September, and you might have something here. It also affords the Mets the luxury of swing-and-miss guys in the ‘pen and I think not having a solid ‘pen cost the Mets at least 10 games in 2011.

Clearly, there is still a lot of work to do, but Sandy Alderson gets rave reviews from me on a night in which he both reshaped and strengthened the Mets.

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