Mets won't break bank this winter
Club looking toward future seasons with free agency
NEW YORK -- Free agency is the luxury of the rich. And while the Mets may rank among Major League Baseball's upper class -- they had the league's fifth-highest payroll in 2010 -- they won't have the luxury of a blank checkbook this winter.
That's mostly because the Mets have $111.5 million tied up in eight players next season, several of whom cannot be expected to provide anything resembling adequate production. The Mets did their heavy spending earlier this decade, admittedly making mistakes. So now it is the charge of new general manager Sandy Alderson to clean up that mess, and -- in some cases -- wait it out.
This, in short, will be a patient winter for the Mets.
"In the free-agent market, we want to be in the market every year," Alderson said last month during his introductory news conference. "That doesn't mean we'll sign a player every year. We want to be in the market every year. Will we be in the market this year, aggressively? Unlikely."
That's not to say the Mets won't spend money on free agency. They will. They may even find a way to make a surprise splash, as they did last winter with the acquisition of outfielder Jason Bay. But mostly, the Mets will look to create roster and financial flexibility through trades, laying the foundation for some more big spending -- and, they hope, smart spending -- in the future.
Barring significant improvements across the board, the Mets may not be able to compete with the Braves and Phillies in a stacked National League East next season.
That takes time.
So, don't expect the Mets to be among the more active teams in free agency this winter. But do expect them to rank among the more active teams in general, laying their foundation for the future.
Free agents: Henry Blanco, C; Elmer Dessens, RHP; Kelvim Escobar, RHP; Pedro Feliciano, LHP; Hisanori Takahashi, LHP; Fernando Tatis, OF
Eligible for arbitration: R.A. Dickey, RHP; Sean Green, RHP; John Maine, RHP; Angel Pagan, OF; Mike Pelfrey, RHP
Player options: None
Club options: Jose Reyes, SS, $11 million (exercised)
Non-tender possibilities: Green, Maine
Starting pitching: This wasn't actually an area of need until Johan Santana underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in September, knocking him out for at least the first portion of next season. The Mets won't find a similar-caliber pitcher to replace him and could turn to in-house options such as Dillon Gee or Jenrry Mejia. But the team also may choose to fill in the back end of its rotation through free agency.
Relief pitching: The bullpen isn't simply a hole -- it's a gaping hole. Even assuming that Francisco Rodriguez and Bobby Parnell come back strong from the injuries that ended their 2010 seasons, the Mets have no one else at the back end of their bullpen and little else in the middle. They've already parted ways with Hisanori Takahashi and may wind up losing Pedro Feliciano as well, so look for them to do what they did last year: sign cheap middle relievers in bulk in the hopes that one or two of them catch fire.
Second base: The club's Opening Day second baseman may already be on the roster -- if not Luis Castillo, then Ruben Tejada or even Daniel Murphy. But that won't stop the Mets from searching for a long-term solution at second base, a position that has troubled them ever since Jose Valentin broke his leg back in 2007. In an ideal world, the Mets would find a taker for Castillo, who has one year and $6 million left on his contract.
After raises for David Wright, Reyes, Santana and others, and significant bumps through arbitration for Pelfrey, Dickey and Pagan, the Mets are already on the hook for around $130 million next season. They'll add to that, but not by much.