2013 Arbitration Eligible Players Could Impact Mets Future


The 2012 arbitration deadline is rapidly approaching, and it seems like the Mets front office has decided its course of action.  As many sources have reported, both Mike Pelfrey and Angel Pagan will be tendered contracts, while Taylor Buchholz is now a free agent and Ronny Paulino is likely to be one as well (no decision has been made yet regarding Manny Acosta).  While these decisions are somewhat important, the reality is that they won’t have a long term impact on the franchise.  It’s next year’s arbitration class that will have a greater impact on the team’s future.

Whatever the opinion on and Pagan and Pelfrey, the reality is that both are likely just sticking around for one more season.  Pagan is a free agent following this season, and whether Pelfrey will be worth his projected arbitration salary of $5.9 million this season is debatable, so it’s hard to imagine the Mets paying him more money in 2013, his final year of arbitration eligibility.  But the decisions made regarding players who will be arbitration eligible for the first time in 2013-Ike Davis, Jon Niese, Bobby Parnell, Daniel Murphy and possibly Josh Thole-will have greater consequences.

Assuming these players are all on the Mets following the 2012 season (which might not necessarily be the case, but it will be assumed for now), the Mets will tender contracts to all of them.  What happens after that though will be interesting.  While the Mets could do the bare minimum and attempt sign each player to a one year contract (or go to arbitration and have a panel decide), it is possible that the Mets could offer these players long term contracts, buying out their arbitration eligible seasons and some free agency years as well.  Whether the Mets pursue this course will vary on a case by case basis.

Out of the five players listed above, Parnell, Murphy and Thole will likely only be offered one year contracts.  Parnell simply hasn’t been consistent enough in the bullpen to warrant more than a one year contract, and only a select class of relievers are worthy of multi-year deals.  If for some reason he is lights out in 2012, maybe the Mets would consider otherwise, but he would have to establish himself as a closer in order to do that.  Murphy’s role with the team is still very undefined-whether he will begin this season at second base, on the bench or elsewhere remains to be seen-and his role in the future is even more uncertain.  Even if Murphy begins the season as the everyday second baseman, prospects Jordanny Valdespin and Reese Havens will likely make their debut in 2012, and both play second base.  Murph will likely wind up in a utility role down the line, another category of players who are typically signed on a year-to-year basis.  The team doesn’t seem to have a clear direction in terms of catcher either, and while there isn’t anyone in the farm system pushing Josh Thole, he still has much to prove if he wants to be the backstop for the long term.

The interesting decisions will regard Davis and Niese.  Even though both players will only be entering their first year of arbitration, locking up a player to a long term deal has its advantages, namely in controlling future costs.  Consider what the Rays did with Evan Longoria.  Because they Tampa front office chose to extend the third baseman so early in his career, he is now under team control through 2016, where the Rays could exercise their $11.5 million option.  If he were to hit the free agent market, Longoria would probably make double that figure.  Of course, there is inherent risk with extending an unproven player, but if the team truly believes he will succeed, the financial benefits are undeniable, and at least worth exploring with Davis and Niese.

Despite missing the bulk of 2011, Ike seems like a good bet to hold down the fort at first base for the foreseeable future.  Should he have a productive 2012 (say, somewhere in the neighborhood of a .275/.370/.530 line with 25-30 homers and solid defense), the Mets might want to think about locking him up.  Ike’s case is a little more complicated because he won’t be a free agent until after the 2016 season, so the Amazins could probably afford to wait a couple of years.  But with no real first baseman prospect down on the farm, it’s worth it to think about a contract extension for Davis at an affordable rate.  Of course, Davis will need to stay healthy and put up the numbers in 2012 to justify such thinking.

But the Met who should most seriously garner thoughts of a contract extension is Jon Niese.  2012 will be the southpaw’s third, full season, and while he has had some difficulties staying healthy, he has showed improvement and the ability to dominate.  He might not be an ace, but he is certainly a very solid middle of the rotation starter, and can act like a number two guy as well.  Young pitching, especially left-handed pitching, is always at a premium, and while the Mets have some pitching prospects on the way up, the front office should want Niese to be part of the future rotation.  That being said, if Niese continues to improve in 2012, extending him say, four or five years isn’t out of the question, if the price is right.

What actions the Mets will take next season can’t possibly be determined yet.  A variety of factors-individual performance, team performance, injuries, finances, etc-will have an impact and Sandy Alderson and company will proceed how they best see fit.  Still, given the theme of this front office doing things differently, one has to wonder if the Mets will strongly consider locking up some arbitration players early as a way to cut down costs in the long term.