The free agent season began Sunday, meaning teams are now allowed to negotiate contracts with players across baseball. The likes of Cliff Lee, Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford will begin talking to big market clubs such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Angels and Tigers and will all likely gain enormous contracts from those teams.
The Mets and their newly anointed General Manager Sandy Alderson will likely be in the shadows of this incredibly top heavy free agent class and will focus on plugging up holes with the goal of becoming a player in 2011-12’s free agent class, which could include players such as Adrian Gonzalez, Dan Uggla, David DeJesus, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, C.J. Wilson and Jonathan Papelbon. That offseason, the Mets will be shedding the cumbersome contracts of Carlos Beltran, K-Rod and Oliver Perez allowing them to be flexible with their potential player personnel moves.
While waiting for next offseason is the plan, the Mets realize that the current fan base is not a patient bunch, and expects the Mets to be a competitive team next year. The Mets currently have many needs, and short term stop gaps could be helpful in creating a team that is at least intriguing next season.
The Mets’ first need is to find a starting pitcher. With Johan Santana out for much of next season, the Mets will be stuck with a rotation of Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey and two question marks. The Mets should look into finding starters who can provide solid innings each time they go out to the mound, and luckily this year’s free agent market offers a perfect solution – Jon Garland.
Garland was rumored to be a potential Mets option last offseason, but ultimately wound up signing with the San Diego Padres. I was quite vocal about my opinions about Garland being a strong back end of the rotation candidate, and Garland proved me right. Garland did not disappoint the Padres, and was a driving force in their incredibly successful 2010 campaign. He finished the season with a 14-12 record and 3.47 ERA. While he was not flashy, or by any means a dominant force, Garland was the definition of solid – which is something the Mets could use. At the very least Garland could become a solid no.4 starter that the Mets rely on for the next few seasons.
Another necessity the Mets need to address is the second base position. Luis Castillo will likely be with another club by the start of next season, leaving Ruben Tejada as the Mets’ only second base option. While Tejada is brilliant defensively, it is quite evident that the 21-year-old is not ready to hit major league pitching and could use some time to adjust. To provide this time I would advocate signing either Orlando Hudson or David Eckstien. Both are free agents this season and would provide the Mets with a significant upgrade over their previous second basemen. While Hudson, who played for the Minnesota Twins last season, has previously stated his desire to play for the Mets. He has two things going against him that make me wary. Hudson is getting older, and his production is dropping, which could mean giving him more than a one-year contract could be dangerous. Hudson is likely to cost more than Eckstien as well. For those reasons, I think adding Eckstien would be a wise move. Not only would Eckstien be cheap, he is a gritty player who loves the game and could be a significant presence in the clubhouse. He could be a tutor to Tejada while also being a perfect hitter in the no.2 slot in the Mets’ lineup. His contact rate is extraordinary, he never strikes out and could provide the Mets with the best 1-2 combo they have had at the top of the order in a long time.
Finally, the Mets need to add bullpen depth and a backup catcher. Alderson has already shown that he is unwilling to overspend on bullpen arms by not giving Hisanori Takahashi the three-year $15 million dollar deal he was reportedly looking for. This also likely means that Pedro Feliciano is not going to be resigned by the Mets. When filling these holes, I think the Mets should keep an eye on a few names. The first one is someone I advocated acquiring last year (this is beginning to sound like a theme…), Joe Beimel. Beimel pitched for the Rockies last season after being flirted with by the Mets late in the offseason. Beimel once again proved that he is a solid middle reliever and posted a 3.40 ERA despite pitching half of his games in Denver’s cool air. Beimel would likely come cheap, and could be had for a one or two year deal and would replace Feliciano or Takahashi as one of the lefty relievers. Other names to keep an eye on are: Jon Rauch, Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and maybe even Brian Fuentes if his price drops.
As for a backup catcher, the Mets need to find someone who could mentor likely starter Josh Thole. Thole became the regular catcher late last season and showed the Mets that he seems to have a future as their backstop. However, Thole is still young and having a seasoned veteran behind the plate could be helpful. The Mets could resign Henry Blanco, because he is getting old and giving money to an aging veteran may not be the wisest decision. One option that intrigues me is former Boston Red Sox star Jason Varitek. Varitek has not been great over the past few seasons, but he could provide the Mets with a veteran who could mentor Thole and could come at a very low price on a one-year deal.
While this offseason may not be flashy for the Mets (even though some on the MLB Network predicted Carl Crawford signing with the Mets) the team still has an opportunity to make small moves that could make the team competitive in 2011. One thing that I am confident about however is Alderson’s ability to make smart baseball savvy moves that will not come back to haunt the team. He proved it with Takahashi’s contract situation, and it seems like the way the Mets do business has changed completely, and that makes me happy.
—-Free Agent Predictions—-
Cliff Lee – Rangers
Jayson Werth – Red Sox
Carl Crawford – Angels
Derek Jeter – Yankees
Mariano Rivera – Yankees
Vladimir Gurerro – Rays
Manny Ramirez - Indians
Victor Martinez – Red Sox
Paul Konerko – D’backs
Adrian Beltre – Angels
Adam Dunn – White Sox
—-Important Dates To Remember—-
Nov.7 Free agents can negotiate with any team
Nov.16 to 17 GM Meetings, Orlando, FL
Nov.23 Deadline to offer arbitration to their own FA
Nov.30 Deadline for players to accept arbitration
Dec.2 Deadline for teams to tender contracts to arbitration players
Dec.6 to 9 Winter Meetings, Lake Buena Vista, FL
Jan.18 Teams and players exchange salary arbitration figures