Got our dämmerung
The Mets have agreed to a deal with former Phillie Billy Wagner
to pitch the twilight of their games for at least the next four years. The various media outlets disagree about the exact details of the deal right now. But he'll get around ten million dollars for each of the next four seasons and either a three million dollar buyout or another ten million to pitch the fifth year. So the Mets will spend somewhere between 43 and 50 million dollars for the next four or five years of the career of Billy Wagner, who will turn thirty-four in July.
First things first, the money is absurd. Paying a guy more than forty thousand dollars per out is just silly. But that's just the nature of the closer position these days. If you can prove yourself capable of getting people out in the ninth consistently, you can get a contract wildly out of proportion to your real value. If the Mets hadn't given him this deal, someone else would have. And, of course, they are the New York Mets, so ten million dollars isn't going to break their backs. At least they have a great closer.
And that is certainly what they have. When Billy Wagner steps on to the mound, he will strike out more than a batter per inning. He will walk about a quarter of the number of batters he strikes out. And he won't give up too many home runs. The only question is how often he'll step on the mound. He missed almost sixty games due to injury two years ago and will be at least thirty-seven when he finishes this contract. As crazy as BJ Ryan's
contract with Toronto
may be, he might have been a safer bet for the Mets. But if Wagner stays healthy, the Mets will have as good a chance at preserving a ninth inning lead as any team in baseball.
The Mets have also purchased Tike Redman
from the Pirates
. Redman cannot hit. His career line is .277/.312/.378 and at twenty-eight, he's probably as good as he's going to get. But he is, by all accounts, a very good center fielder. I would think the Mets already have a guy to fill that role, but I suppose Redman could be a useful twenty-fifth man.
There are plenty of rumors swirling right now about the Mets' next move, most of them frightening. Right now it seems like giving a three-year contract to Bengie Molina
might be one of the least stupid things they could do, which isn't a good sign. Alfonso Soriano's
name keeps popping up and that idea hasn't gotten any less dumb in the past year. But of course Manny Ramirez
is the name that is dominating the gossip right now.
Now, if Ramirez were a free agent and the Mets didn't already have a left fielder, I'd be all for signing him. But gutting the farm system (again) to acquire a player as expensive as he is flawed would be an awful move. Giving up any of Lastings Milledge, Aaron Heilman
, Jae Seo
and Cliff Floyd
to get him would prove Omar Minaya about as honest about his commitment to "building from within" as Jim Duquette and Fred Wilpon were prior to the 2004 season. The Mets' offense doesn't need another star to be formidable. Adding solid role players like Ramon Hernandez
and Mark Grudzielanek
to the core they have already assembled would make for a very dangerous team. Minaya has proven himself a lot more adept at making the big, flashy moves than the small, creative ones so far. This would be a good time to show so ingenuity in the latter department.
If local and national media outlets are to be believed, and are not just executing some elaborate plot to torture me by getting my hopes up and then dashing them, the Mets have got themselves a first baseman. The team has been transported back to the heady days of 1999 when the manager didn't have to hold his nose while filling out the spot next to "1B" on his lineup card. Wille Randolph no longer has to explain that he can't bat his first baseman eighth because he is too slow to make it to second base on a sacrifice bunt. It is a brand new day at Shea Stadium. Carlos Delgado
will be donning the orange and blue.
The man's qualifications require little interpretation. After a down year in 2004 which saw him hit .269/.372/.535 and miss some time due to injury for the Toronto Blue Jays
, Delgado signed with the Marlins
. He exploded upon the National League, hitting .301/.399/.582 with thirty-three home runs in a stadium that dampens offense similarly to Shea Stadium. Even accounting for the fact that he is thirty-three years old and not that great defensively, he is an enormous upgrade over the guys the Mets were sending out to play first last year. They hit .227/.303/.391, posting an OPS lower than the National League average at shortstop or catcher. A bat like Carlos Delgado's was a large part of the difference between the 2004 Mets and a playoff team.
Of course, to acquire Delgado, the Mets have to give something up. And a whole lot of money just isn't enough. So Mike Jacobs
and Yusmeiro Petit will be headed south. As happy as I am to have Delgado on the Mets, I am sad to see both of these guys go. Jacobs's improbable offensive explosion in the last month of the season was fun to watch, and he would have been a nice guy to have around for a team without a real first baseman like the Mets have been in recent years. But the Mets have a real first baseman now, and Jacobs is far from a proven major leaguer. He had a big month in the majors and a very good year in the minors. But he spent that year as a twenty-four year old in AA after missing almost all of 2004 due to injury. Jacobs is a nice player to have, but he stopped looking like a future star major leaguer when he took off his catcher's mitt.
As for Petit, that one hurts. I've really enjoyed watching him progress through the minors over the last two years, piling up strikeouts along the way. He had a big year in AA in 2005, striking out 130 batters in 117 2/3 innings with walking just 18. Scouts have always questioned his ability to get major league hitters out with his less than imposing fastball and he finished the year off with a rough couple of weeks in AAA. But I always looked forward to the day when he'd put on a Mets uniform, step onto the mound at Shea Stadium and make some major leaguer wonder how he just swung at that fastball and missed. The fact that this is the second year in a row the Mets have given up their top pitching prospect in a trade makes it hurt all the more.
But this time, the Mets got something in return. They gave up a pitcher with the potential for greatness and received a hitter who's already great. Carlos Delgado
has a career .284/.393/.559 line with 369 home runs. So while I hate to see Petit go, I can't help but be excited about the new look of the 2006 Mets lineup. Imagine a top five of Jose Reyes
, Carlos Beltran
, David Wright
, Carlos Delgado and Cliff Floyd
. Even if Willie Randolph finds some less appealing way to arrange them, it's going to be fun.
Mike Cameron out, potential for mispronunciation in
The Mets have opened up a spot in their outfield and at the same time acquired Xavier Nady
. Two things should be obvious. The first is that Mike Cameron
is a better offensive player than Nady. In every season in which Nady has played more than one major league game, both his on base and slugging percentages have been lower than those of Cameron. And it's never really been all that close. This past season Nady hit .261/.321/.439 compared to Cameron's .273/.342/.477. The second obvious thing is that Cameron is a better defensive player than Nady. Even though he is certainly past his prime, Cameron is a two-time Gold Glove winning center fielder. Nady played forty-four games at first base last year. So what sense can we make of this trade?
Well, there were certainly some factors preventing the Mets from getting full value out of a trade involving Cameron. The gruesome injury that ended his season raises questions about his ability to play like his old self in 2006. A team trading for Cameron couldn't be sure of exactly what they were getting. And Cameron has more value to a team that can play him in center field than he does to the Mets. He does not hit like a right fielder and his ability to contribute defensively is diminished by being stationed to Carlos Beltran's
left. Still, none of this quite explains the Mets ditching Cameron in favor of an inferior player, so what does Nady have going for him?
He is younger than Cameron by nearly six years. This would be more useful if the Mets had Cameron under contract for more than one year or Nady was the sort of player you'd like to have on your team for a few years, but it is a point in his favor in any case. Cameron's injury only exacerbates the concerns about his decline as he nears his thirty-third birthday. His OBP was up this year due to the highest batting average of his career, but his ISO (SLG minus BA) was down for the third straight year. A repeat of his 2005 rate stats wouldn't be bad for a center fielder, but he was even less likely to be the Mets' starting CF than he is to miraculously stave off the ravages of age. Nady once seemed like a somewhat promising young outfielder, but he turned twenty-seven on Monday. Chances are very high that whatever he has to offer, he's already shown us. I suppose he's got more breakout potential than someone like, say, Kris Benson
, but that's not saying much.
The other advantage Nady presents over Cameron is that he'll cost the Mets about six million dollars less. That would be more useful if the Mets were the Oakland Athletics, but still, it's something. Nady is basically a cheap guy who can play any corner position if you really need him to, but hopefully you won't, because he doesn't hit well enough to start at any of them. Yes, he hit better than the average Mets first baseman in 2004, but that is really not that impressive.
So, in the end, the Mets have six million bucks to play with and a hole in their lineup where a right fielder should be. If all else fails, they can plug it with Victor Diaz
, but I doubt that's the plan. This move only makes sense as a prelude to another move. Whether this means the Mets are going to take a run at Brian Giles
or package Nady in a trade for something useful (or do both), we'll need a little more information before we can fairly judge this move. But right now, it doesn't look too good.
On an unrelated note, this
is about the best summary of the 2005 Mets season that I've seen. If anyone reading this can read Korean and would like to translate it for me, I would greatly appreciate it. But I can hardly imagine how the words could top the brilliance of the pictures.
The 2005 Mets: Season In Review
For the New York Mets, 2005 was a year that felt disappointing as it was happening. They seemed so close to returning to the playoffs for the first time. And then they just fell apart like they always do. But the September collapse obscures how far this team came in one year and all the obstacles they had to overcome to do it. This team had some glaring weaknesses, and some bad luck on top of that. And their manager didn't seem the type to make lemonade out of lemons so much as the type to send the lemons out to pitch to the opposing team's best hitter in the eighth inning of a close game. Still, this team improved its record by twelve wins to go 83-79 and did it in a way that it seems like something they can build upon rather than a fluke.
The Mets' offense scored the seventh most runs in the National League, up from twelfth in 2004. And they did it with just one truly extraordinary hitter in their lineup. And that guy was the least experienced hitter they had. With some holes that shouldn't be too hard to fill and several important hitters still on the right side of thirty years old, the Mets' offense is a good one with some room to grow. Here's what it looks like, position by position.
C: National League average: .250/.314/.388
Mets average: .245/.322/.436
Mike Piazza: .253/.329/.456 (371 at bats)
Ramon Castro: .240/.318/.428 (208)
The Mets have become accustomed to this position being a plus over the years and 2005 was no exception, though the gap between Met catchers and the average NL backstop has shrunk considerably in recent seasons. Piazza's numbers were similar to 2004 but for the startling drop in his OBP. Things aren't likely to get much better for him as time rolls on. I still think he could be a useful part-time catcher in 2006, but it seems he has other plans and the Mets will have to look elsewhere. If this is the end, it's been a great seven and a half years and worth every penny as far as I'm concerned. He has been the greatest offensive player in the history of the franchise and I look forward to his being the second Mets cap to adorn a plaque in Cooperstown.
Castro was an able backup and could fill the same role in 2006. He wouldn't be a great choice to start, but there isn't much on the free agent market this offseason. Putting bats at positions where bats are expected should be more of a priority for the Mets than furthering the Carter-Hundley-Piazza lineage of catchers who can hit. Giving guys like Castro and Mike Jacobs a shot may be the best they can do for now.
1B: NL: .280/.361/.483
Doug Mientkiewicz: .245/.328/.416 (269)
Mike Jacobs: .296/.364/.673 (98)
Where have you gone John Olerud? A franchise turns its lonely eyes to you. It's been six years since the Mets have had a first baseman worthy of the title, and while they did reach one World Series after the man in the funny hat left town, filling this slot with guys who can't hit isn't a strategy likely to get them back there. Mientkiewicz missed almost half of the season, and that wasn't the bad news. Getting on base is the only thing he's ever been good at offensively and he couldn't even do that this year. Eleven home runs were a nice surprise, but not nearly enough to prevent this position from being an offensive anchor in the nautical sense.
Jacobs had a heck of a month after a late August callup, playing almost exclusively at first base despite his history of catching. Oddly, his ESPN.com profile
lists him as a catcher despite the fact that he didn't register a single major league plate appearance as such. One hundred major league at bats aren't a lot to go on--just ask Shane Spencer and Benny Agbayani--but Jacobs could be a useful part for the Mets at catcher and/or first base in 2006, as they're unlikely to fill either position in a particularly exciting way this offseason.
2B: NL: .276/.338/.414
Miguel Cairo: .254/.299/.334 (287)
Kazuo Matsui: .257/.305/.361 (249)
This did not work out quite like I hoped it would. Instead of adjusting to the major leagues and putting up a big second season like Hideki Matsui did, Japanese iron man Kazuo Matsui alternated between being injured and being awful in 2005. And Miguel Cairo provided Met fans with an example of the old adage about being careful what you wish for. Many called for Matsui to be benched in favor of Cairo, and Cairo eventually did take Matsui's spot even when Matsui was healthy. The only problem was that Cairo was even more useless with a bat in his hand than Matsui.
The Mets should approach the 2005 offseason as though they don't have a second baseman on the roster. Big contract or not, Matsui does not deserve anything more than a shot to compete for the starting spot in 2006, and even that would be generous. And Cairo should not be brought back under any circumstances, lest Willie Randolph decide it's a good idea for him to bat second for a couple more months. Both the free agent market and the Mets' minor league system are basically devoid of serious choices to play second base at the major league level next year, but this is a position where the team needs to upgrade. Finding a league average second baseman would put a significant number of runs on the board for the Mets in 2006.
3B: NL: .274/.344/.442
David Wright: .306/.388/.523 (575)
At twenty-two years old, David Wright was one of the twenty best hitters in the major leagues in 2005. Only Morgan Ensberg even enters the conversation of who the most valuable third baseman in the National League was, and he's seven years older and had thirty-three fewer plate appearances. If it weren't for the guy who plays across town, Wright would be a legitimate choice for the best third baseman in the majors. He will show up at the bottom of some MVP ballots, and rightly so. He'll turn twenty-three in December.
This is the one position where the Mets have absolutely nothing to be concerned about aside from getting the man under contract for as long as possible. He could be a little more consistent defensively, but 24 errors certainly don't tell the whole story. The fact that 24 is the exact number of errors that a twenty-two year-old Scott Rolen made in his first full major league season is just an amusing coincidence. But while Wright could occasionally get sloppy on a routine play, he would also make the best play you've seen all year every once in a while. And then he'd top it.
Tom Seaver is the greatest home grown player in franchise history. Darryl Strawberry is the best hitter to come out of the Mets' farm system. Wright's got a long way to go to top the former, but I don't have much doubt that he's going to give the latter a run for his money before he's done. As long as he's got a uniform on, there will be at least one reason to watch the Mets.
SS: NL: .264/.313/.378
Jose Reyes: .273/.299/.386 (696)
Of course, Wright isn't the only reason to watch. Jose Reyes is impossible to take your eyes off of when he's at the plate or on the bases, even if his stats don't look like those of a superstar. If you add in the sixty bases he stole (in seventy-five tries), things start looking a little better. But he still hasn't lived up to the promise of his rookie year, when he hit .307/.334/.434 in half a season.
That promise was derailed in large part by injuries, so perhaps Reyes's batting statistics aren't the most important numbers when describing his 2005. Six hundred and ninety-six at bats tell you more than just that he needs to draw more walks. They tell you that Reyes stayed healthy enough to play in all but one of his team's games this year. While he's still got a lot of work to do to solidify his place in the core of this team's future, staying on the field all year was a big step in the right direction.
LF: NL: .272/.348/.457
Cliff Floyd: .279/.359/.507 (548)
Speaking of surprising bouts of health, here's Cliff Floyd. The Met left fielder played in more games than he has since 1998 and looked good with both the bat and the glove. He got off to an explosive start, posting OPSes over 1.000 in two of the season's first three months before settling into more pedestrian numbers in the second half. He also looked vastly improved with the glove. The difference between his defense this year and in his previous two years with the Mets looked to be night and day, and stats like those of Baseball Prospectus
agree. All in all, Floyd was the second most valuable Met hitter.
Still, this is Cliff Floyd we're talking about. Expecting a repeat of this year's health at age thirty-three would be foolish. The outfield corners seem like the place the Mets are most likely to try to upgrade before the start of the season. With Brian Giles the premier free agent and Omar Minaya still dreaming of Manny, rumors are bound to swirl this offseason. Selling high on Cliff Floyd seems like the way to go. Hopefully the Mets trade wisely.
CF: NL: .275/.340/.437
Carlos Beltran: .267/.331/.416 (580)
Seriously, what the hell? Beltran's OBP was twenty points lower than his career mark and his SLG was sixty-five points off. I don't want to make like a mindless New York beat writer and play the "big city pressure" card, but something unusual happened here. Maybe his early season leg injuries were more serious than we were led to believe, and certainly he deserves some slack for the period of the season after he and his right fielder cracked skulls in mid-air. But even taking into account those extenuating circumstances, this season has to rate as a colossal disappointment.
The only thing to do right now is expect him to bounce back. The only season comparable to this is 2000, when he hit .247/.309/.366 in 98 games after hitting .293/.337/.454 the previous year. After that, he started putting up the superstar numbers we've come to expect from him. We can't draw any conclusions about 2006 based on that. But we can't conclude that he's spending the offseason shopping for coats that will fit around the giant fork sticking out of his back based on one bad season either. Carlos Beltran will be one of the Mets' two best offensive players in 2006. Or they're in some serious trouble.
RF: NL: .269/.346/.456
Mike Cameron: .261/.329/.456 (272)
Victor Diaz: .264/.333/.487 (261)
The Mets got decent production from right field, but this still seems like a position they're likely to try hard to upgrade in the offseason. Mike Cameron got off to a late hot start, but he cooled off considerably after May and then his season ended shockingly in August. Victor Diaz had a decent season in relief, but didn't really establish himself as an easy choice for a future starting role.
Cameron will likely be dealt to a team that can play him in center field while Diaz reprises his role as fourth outfielder. The aforementioned Brian Giles will probably receive serious consideration from the Mets. He bounced back somewhat in 2005 after a rough 2004 in San Diego's new offense-dampening stadium. At thirty-five years old, he's not going to be the player to put the Mets over the top, but at the right price, getting a solidly above average player who gets on base a lot to play right field could be a good addition.
So the Mets' offense is far from complete heading into this offseason, but there is a lot to make one optimistic. The three most important guys are young enough to improve, as hard as that is to believe in Wright's case. And given the awful production the Mets got out of the right side of their infield, finding average major leaguers to staff those spots would be a big upgrade. The Mets' everyday lineup could undergo a serious transformation before opening day. But as long as its got Reyes, Wright and Beltran at the top of it, there's reason to be excited.
The Mets' pitching also improved significantly in 2005. They allowed the third fewest runs in the league, up from eighth in 2004. The cut more than half a run off the team ERA and walked 101 fewer batters. Unlike the offense, there was no youngster driving this resurgence who can be expected to keep it up for years to come. But they should at least have all the guys who contributed to the 2005 success back. And, also unlike the offense, there could be some reinforcements from the minors on the way.
Pedro Martinez: 15-8, 2.82, 217 IP, 8.6 K/9, 1.9 BB/9
Well, at least one of the Mets' big investments paid off in 2005. Pedro Martinez stayed healthy enough to pitch as many innings as he has in seven years--oddly enough, it's the third season since 1998 in which he's pitched exactly 217 innings--and those innings couldn't have been of a higher quality. While his numbers did not compare with those of his best seasons, he still ranked as one of the ten best pitchers in baseball. I think the Mets will settle for that.
There can never be certainty about a pitcher's future health, and Pedro's health is more uncertain than most. But 2001 was the last time he failed to make at least twenty-nine starts and the Mets were careful with him at the end of this season. The fourth year of his contract is still far in the future, but 2006 looks quite promising.
Tom Glavine: 13-13, 3.53, 211.1, 4.5, 2.6
I have to say I did not see that coming. In a season when Met fans everywhere were hoping Glavine wouldn't pitch enough innings to trigger the 2006 option in his contract, he surprised everyone with another solid season. Much like his ultimately adequate 2004, 2005 was a tale of two halves, one excellent and one excrement. The thirty-nine year-old southpaw spent the first half of the season confirming fans' worst fears, posting a 4.94 ERA with a 46:41 K:BB ratio in 102 innings before the All Star break. But in the second half, he rediscovered his 2004 first half form, posting a 2.22 ERA with a 59:20 K:BB ratio in 109.1 innings. As if to illustrate the uselessness of a pitcher's win-loss record in describing his effectiveness, he went 6-7 before the break and 7-6 after.
So what's next? Does Glavine at forty have another half of an great season in him? Probably not. But the Mets are stuck with him. He'd still make a pretty good fifth starter, I think. SO all the Mets have to do to improve their rotation is make sure they've got four guys better than Glavine. Well, Pedro certainly counts as one.
Jae Seo: 8-2, 2.59, 90.1, 5.9, 1.6
This guy would certainly count as number two, if they let him. Despite spending half the season in Norfolk
so that Kazuhisa Ishii could make Victor Zambrano look like he had good control by comparison, Seo was the third most valuable starting pitcher the Mets had. He was sent down after just three starts with a 2.00 ERA and when he got called back up in August, he didn't miss a beat. He started eleven games and went 6-1 with a 2.74 ERA. He had the lowest walk rate of any Met pitcher, starter or reliever. One can only wonder where the Mets might have finished had he been in the majors all season.
As big a fan of Seo as I am, even I never expected this kind of season out of him. It's hard to believe he can keep it up much longer, but that's the sort of thing I often thought before his starts down the stretch this season. Maybe it is just as simple as his developing a couple of new pitches. If so, he just may be able to sustain it for a little while longer. Regardless of the improbability of his sudden success, there is no way his name shouldn't already be written in ink on the 2006 Mets' opening day roster.
Kris Benson: 10-8, 4.13, 174.1, 4.9, 2.5
No, really. He's about to break out and become an elite pitcher. I can just feel it. The man with all the potential had another in a long line of mediocre seasons, earning an ERA within a tenth of a run of league average (4.22). Rick Peterson's magic powers did not turn him into one of the best pitchers in the league or even one of the three best pitchers on his own team.
Benson seems capable of being a reliable guy at the back of a good rotation. But usually you can find those guys for less than $7.5 million per season. As he dives headlong into his thirties, Benson will probably continue to be better than most of the guys in the Mets' minor league system. At least if he feels guilty about taking their jobs, he can afford to buy them a nice lunch to apologize.
Victor Zambrano: 7-12, 4.17, 166.1, 6.1, 4.2
And then there's this guy. He got booted to the bullpen before the season ended. Meanwhile, further south...
Scott Kazmir: 10-9, 3.77, 186, 8.4, 4.8
Aside from those five and Ishii, Aaron Heilman and Steve Trachsel each made a handful of starts. Heilman was solid and had a couple of really dominant starts before getting sent to the bullpen, where he excelled. Trachsel returned from injury in August and was inconsistent.
Martinez, Glavine, Benson, Trachsel and Seo will probably be the rotation come opening day. It would be nice if Zambrano were in another uniform by then, but I won't get my hopes up. The Mets could always explore trading possibilities, but there aren't a lot of options on the free agent market. AJ Burnett seems to be the man most likely to be overpaid by a large market team. Hopefully it's not the Mets.
In spite of Willie Randolph's baffling bullpen management, the Mets did get some good performances from their relievers. In addition to Heilman, Roberto Hernandez was excellent all year and Juan Padilla pitched very well after a midseason callup. Expecting a repeat performance from a forty-one year-old Hernandez seems to be asking too much, but he at least deserves a chance to show that he can be useful again. The Mets have some young arms who could prove useful in 2006, but aside from Heilman, there isn't a lot to be confident about here.
One position that the Mets will almost surely attempt to upgrade via free agent signing is that of closer. After a very good 2004, Braden Looper fell to earth hard. He pitched twenty-four fewer innings yet walked six more batters. And his strikeout total was less than half of what it was the year before. His ERA jumped more than a point. He will not be back.
The Mets will likely pursue Billy Wagner to fill this role, which doesn't sound like a bad idea at all. Like any big name closer, he'll get money out of proportion to his real value. But that doesn't mean he won't be one of the best closers money can buy. He still strikes out more than a batter per inning with a fairly low walk rate. At thirty-four with some recent injuries, his durability is a concern, but, aside from perhaps BJ Ryan, there isn't a comparable talent available to fill this position. And as ridiculous as either man's salary might turn out to be, it's not going to financially cripple the New York Mets.
The Mets' pitching success seems a bit more fragile than that of their offense, and not just due to the inherent unpredictability of pitchers. They're counting on some guys in their thirties and one guy with half a great season to maintain their performance or get better. Not being exceedingly patient with guys like Ishii and Zambrano could improve the bottom line a bit, but it doesn't look like the Mets will make any huge strides here. Yusmeiro Petit getting off to a hot start in AAA could be a big help later in the season.
Altogether, the Mets look like a solid team moving in the right direction. Another offseason full of big moves could always backfire, and Omar Minaya isn't one to shy away from headlines. The next few months will likely be sprinkled with tense moments when it seems like Minaya is about to trade away the whole farm system for Danys Baez. But until that happens, I remain cautiously optimistic.