This Offseason: A New Hope

With spring training quickly approaching, the end of baseball’s long winter season is nearing it’s finish. The time for trades, waiver wire pickups, contract negotiations and baseless rumors is now over and the time for sunshine, grapefruits and cactuses is about to begin.

The Mets, like every other major league franchise, added players to their roster with the hopes of competing in 2011. But unlike some teams, the Mets were forced to construct their 2011 roster with limited financial resources. From his introductory press conference, new General Manager Sandy Alderson preached fiscal responsibility, and the roster moves he has made over the course of the past few months have corresponded with his philosophy.

Alderson has stuck to a warped version of the “Moneyball” techniques he is credited with pioneering during his days as Oakland’s GM. When most fans hear the term “Moneyball” they think of on-base percentage hitters, drafting college players only and being creative with budgets. However, in reality “Moneyball” is about finding undervalued assets, which Alderson is hoping his offseason moves will be.

Alderson has plucked Chris Capuano, Chris Young, D.J. Carrasco, Taylor Tankersley, Tim Byrdak, Blaine Boyer, Taylor Buchholz, Boof Bonser, Ronny Paulino, Willie Harris, Scott Hairston and Chin-lung Hu off of the scrap heap with hopes of unearthing an undervalued gem that surprises the league and becomes a solid signing.

Of those players, a few actually have a shot at being solid pickups.

The Mets premier (if you can call it that) signing this offseason was the addition of Chris Young to their depleted rotation. The right-hander and the Mets agreed to a one year $1.1 million dollar incentive laden deal that could reach $4.5 million if he reaches all of the deal’s various milestones and bench marks.

Young’s injury-riddled past kept him off of most team’s radar and allowed the Mets to swoop in and sign the former all-star to a cheap deal. The Mets hope that Young can repeat his once dominant form and become an under the radar bargain pickup.

Young had a strong 2006 season, going 11 – 5 with a 3.46 ERA and an all-star appearance but since then his career has been marred by injuries and has only started 36 games over the past three seasons.  After coming back from injuries last season, Young finished off the year strong, pitching in four games with a 0.90 ERA and striking out 15 batters in 20 innings pitched.  Young  is also a fly ball pitcher, which could translate nicely into Citi Field’s spacious confines. Of all of the Mets signings this offseason, Young has the most potential to make a strong impact on the team, and could become a solid pitcher for the back end of the rotation.

Other interesting signings by Alderson that fit the low-risk, high-reward profile were the additions of Chris Capuano and Taylor Buchholz on one-year contracts. Capuano signed for $1.5 million, while Buchholtz will earn $600,000. However, both pitchers have recently underwent Tommy John surgery, and as a result were unjustly undervalued in the free agent market.  A study by The American Journal of Sports Medicine found that 82 percent of Major League pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery fully recover. It is also known that the mean recovery time for the surgery is around 18.5 months – around the time in which Capuano’s velocity levels returned to form. It is reasonable to believe that both Buchholz and Capuano have fully recovered from their injuries and could return to their pre-surgery form.

Capuano even showed promise last season, where he went 4-4 with a 3.95 ERA for the Brewers. Buchholz was once a top prospect and in 2008 he had a 2.17 ERA in 63 relief appearances for the Rockies and held opponents to a .188 average and will be nearly two years removed from his Tommy John surgery.

Both Capuano and Buchholz both have tremendous upside for the price at which they were acquired and could be sleeper signings wherever they end up on the pitching staff.

Alderson continued to remake the Mets’ bullpen by signing DJ Carrasco during the winter meetings to a two-year contract. Carrasco pitched for the Pirates and Diamondbacks last season going 3-2 with a 3.68 ERA and holding his opponents to a .239 average. Carrasco did  receive $2.5 million from the Mets, a steep price for the team this offseason, but is regarded as a workhorse in the bullpen – which is something the Mets could use. Another dark horse candidate, 37-year-old Tim Byrdak who signed a minor league deal in early January, could compete for the left-handed reliever slot in the Mets bullpen. Byrdak posted a 3.49 ERA for the Astros last season and had an average of 6.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Carrasco and Byrdak should be solid pickups that could bolster the bullpen.

The other players acquired by Alderson this offseason all have stories like the players above, whether it be past injuries or former potential, and will, at the very least, give the Mets depth at AAA. Players like Blaine Boyer, Boof Bonser and Taylor Tankersley will compete for bullpen slots this spring and all seem to have some sort of potential that other teams overlooked.

While this offseason may not have been as flashy as years past and the Mets have made virtually no “impact” signings, Mets fans should have hope. We are witnessing a drastic change in the Mets’ front office management. The Mets have progressed from Omar Minaya’s big spending, foolish contract-giving ways to a more refined and smart way of running a baseball team. It seems Alderson is more concerned with a player’s performance rather than the name on the back of a jersey, which is a breath of fresh air.