Inbox: Who will be the Mets' closer in 2012?
Beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers questions from fans
Jose Reyes, Jose Reyes, Jose Reyes -- it's seemingly the only thing on anyone's mind these days. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of your Mets Inbox questions have revolved around whether or not Reyes will return to Flushing next season. I don't know. I admit it. Even Reyes probably doesn't know at this point, with the offseason still so young.
So rather than discuss the pros and cons of New York and Miami until we're blue (Mets blue? Marlins blue?) in the face, it's about time we delve into some other offseason happenings. The Mets need a closer, a starting pitcher and a brand-new bench, for example. So without even touching the subject of Reyes, let's take a look at what the team may or may not do in the coming weeks.
Would Brad Lidge be a consideration for the Mets' closer next year? He's coming off a down year, so they could get him pretty cheap, but he could potentially have a nice upside, much like Chris Young and Chris Capuano last year.
--Donny S., Nyack, N.Y.
He could and likely will be a strong consideration. Lidge is part of a deep closer's market that includes a glut of pitchers coming off injuries or down seasons; others include Jonathan Broxton (bone spur in his right elbow), Joe Nathan (Tommy John surgery) and Matt Capps (general ineffectiveness). The thinking is that one of those players could produce results similar to a top-tier closer at a fraction of the price, or at the least on an incentive-laden contract. Much as they did with Capuano last season in the starting rotation, the Mets won't mind shelling out incentive dollars if their new closer earns them.
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Of course, general manager Sandy Alderson is not the only one thinking that way -- Capps' agent, Paul Kinzer, noted last week that the former Pirates and Twins closer has been his most popular client throughout the early portion of the offseason. Some of that may be agent-speak, aiming to inflate Capps' value. But there's also likely some truth to it, meaning if the Mets are serious about revamping the back end of their bullpen, it won't necessarily come cheap -- just cheaper than it might have without such a large group of closers currently available.
In addition to the four aforementioned pitchers, current and former stoppers Ryan Madson, Heath Bell, Frank Francisco, Francisco Cordero, Jon Rauch and Chad Qualls are all free agents. Oh, and Francisco Rodriguez -- though don't hold your breath on that one.
What are the Mets' chances of signing Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish? Do you think they can? What would it take to get him here and how much? I hope the Mets will be serious bidders for him.
--Andres A., Queens, N.Y.
If the Mets miss out on Reyes, which seems likely, do you think they would have any interest in Yoenis Cespedes? His contract would be more than manageable and he seems like he could be an impact player all around.
--David D., Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
This week's mailbag overflowed with questions on Darvish and Cespedes. The short answer on both fronts is "No."
At its core, this is a matter of finances. Because of his age and reputation, Darvish will require a massive posting fee just for the right to negotiate with him, which the Mets cannot and will not pay. Given their lack of payroll flexibility and the history of Japanese pitchers in the Major Leagues, pursuing Darvish is simply too great a gamble for Alderson to make.
Cespedes will also not come cheap, despite similar questions regarding his ability to excel in the Majors. Though the Mets did have a scout attend one of Cespedes' recent workouts, so did just about every other team in baseball. His signing bonus alone could prove prohibitive.
And those are just the price tags, with no guaranteed returns on investment. Often, Japanese stars -- Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kaz Matsui, et al -- are unable to fully translate their international successes to the Major Leagues. (Ichiro Suzuki has proven to be the exception, not the rule.) Likewise, there is so little scouting data available for most Cuban defectors that, despite the apparent talent of players such as Cespedes, the risk in signing them will always be greater than that of American free agents. That's fine for a team with deep pockets, but the Mets do not currently have the luxury to commit serious dollars to players with such high bust potential.
To be clear: Alderson's top priority right now is to create payroll flexibility for the future, not destroy it. To commit significant resources to Darvish or Cespedes would work directly counter to what he is trying to achieve.
Should the Mets find a new pitching coach? Their pitching has been very bad the past couple years. I don't want Dan Warthen to ruin prospects Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia. He ruined Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine.
--Jacob C., Huntington, N.Y.
You contend that Warthen "ruined" Pelfrey, Perez and Maine. I contend that Pelfrey, in particular, has improved dramatically since Warthen became pitching coach in June 2008.
Before Warthen arrived, Pelfrey was 10-17 with a 5.14 ERA and a 1.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio; since Warthen, Pelfrey has gone 44-41 with a 4.23 ERA and 1.72 ratio. Credit some of that to maturity, but consider also that Pelfrey has evolved from a one-pitch thrower to more of a well-rounded starter, given his sinker's decreasing effectiveness. Surely Warthen must have played some role in that evolution.
As for Maine and Perez, both wrestled with injuries throughout Warthen's tenure and lost significant velocity on their pitches -- simply put, they were physically unable to do the things they did before Warthen arrived, which is hardly the pitching coach's fault. Nor is it Warthen's fault that Perez showed up to camp overweight in 2009. And should we just ignore the unexpected successes of R.A. Dickey and Dillon Gee, two non-prospects who have thrived in the big leagues under Warthen's tutelage?
There are multiple reasons why Warthen survived a coaching shakeup in October, not the least of which is the fact that he remains beloved by most of the team's pitchers. The staff -- particularly the bullpen -- did take a significant step back this season, and it's a good bet that Warthen will be under a microscope should his pitchers stumble early next season. But let's not rush to dismiss a coach after one poor season.
With Juan Lagares hitting over .370 from midseason through August last year, what does he need to do to crack the Mets' starting outfield and when do you think that will happen?
--Tom B., Patchogue, N.Y.
Given his strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, no Mets prospect possesses more helium than Lagares, who was a forgotten man before breaking out with a .349 average over two Minor League levels this season -- including, as you noted, a .370 mark in 38 games at Double-A Binghamton. As if to confirm Lagares' newfound importance, the Mets added the outfielder to their 40-man roster last Friday, thereby protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft.
But let's not get carried away -- at least not yet. By most counts, Lagares did not even rank among the organization's top two dozen prospects before his successes in 2011 -- a breakout based upon the types of inflated batting averages that often turn out to be mirages. That's not to say Lagares will ultimately be a bust. It's just an acknowledgement that he needs to succeed for a full season at Double-A before we crown him the center fielder of the future.
At age 23, Lagares will have that chance in 2012. If he thrives, he will almost certainly be a significant part of the outfield discussion for 2013. If not, the Mets have more than enough center field prospects kicking around the organization -- Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Matt den Dekker and Brandon Nimmo were all high-round Draft picks -- to push Lagares back to the fringes.