Mets Have Money to Burn, but How Will it be Used?


Earlier this morning, I mentioned what Jon Heyman tweeted over the weekend in regards to the Mets and their off-season spending. To refresh your memory, he said that New York has “quite a bit” of money to spend, and they’re still looking for help in the rotation, outfield, and bullpen. Despite that tweet, which could sound encouraging to the casual fan, it’s hard to see where this money is going to go when it comes to talent on the field, especially after the latest financial news that has given the Wilpons $160 million in spending money.

Let’s take a look at what the Mets have done so far this winter at each of these positions by first evaluating the bullpen. Even though the outfield ended up giving them a run for their money, this area of the team was by far the weakest of all. Last winter, it was on Sandy Alderson’s to-do list to rebuild the bullpen, and in the court of popular opinion, he did a great job by acquiring Ramon Ramirez in a trade with the Giants, and signing free agents Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to secure the 8th and 9th innings. Unfortunately for Sandy, Ramirez and Francisco had terrible years, and despite productive stretch in June and July, Rauch was inconsistent.

June 18, 2012; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson (left) and owner Fred Wilpon before the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Once the season was through, we saw a lot of addition by subtraction, as both Ramirez and Rauch entered free agency without any hesitation by New York, and Manny Acosta getting non-tendered. He probably would have liked to get rid of Francisco as well, but he’s under contract through 2013 for $6 million, and no one wants a closer that put together a 5.53 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 48 games, while hitting the DL a couple times.

What has the front office done to improve the ‘pen? Not a whole lot, but I think it could be enough. Word on the street was the organization was planning on “bottom-feeding” for relief arms this winter because getting well-known names last winter didn’t go so well. The two signings they made include minor league deals with invites to Spring Training for Greg Burke and Aaron Laffey. These are by no means high-profile signs, but could solidify the bullpen. As it stands now, the ‘pen will likely include Francisco, Bobby Parnell, Josh Edgin, and Jeurys Familia. If Burke and Laffey perform well enough to make the Big League squad, there will be one last spot open for another arm, which could be used internally for someone like Robert Carson, Jeremy Hefner, Jenrry Mejia, or another low-risk, high-reward type signing.

Next, let’s take a look at the rotation. Contrary to the bullpen, this was the strong suit of the 2012 Mets, led by NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey (20-6, 2.73 ERA). If Johan Santana been more consistent after his historic no-hitter and Dillon Gee didn’t go down with a serious injury, the Mets probably would have been in playoff contention deeper into the season. Matt Harvey debuted in July and put together an impressive showing in ten starts (3-5, 2.73 ERA), while Jonathon Niese had a career year for himself (13-9, 3.40 ERA).

When trying to fill needs this winter, Alderson was pretty adamant it would be coming via trade, and it was likely to involve one of their starting pitchers. Niese and Dickey were both going through the rumor mill quite a bit, until the Mets pulled off a trade with the Blue Jays that sent Dickey, along with Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas to Toronto, in exchange for top prospects Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, catcher John Buck, and Wuilmer Becerra.

So, now with a hole in the rotation and 233 innings to replace, the Mets have been linked to free agents such as Shaun Marcum, Carl Pavano, and Chris Young. It sounds as if Young is the most likely candidate because the Mets know what he’s capable of, and can get him on a low base salary. The front office prefers to not give out a multi-year deal, using their big market of New York City, the pitcher-friendly confines of Citi Field, and a guaranteed spot in the rotation to lure a pitcher. In essence, although pitchers like Kyle Lohse and Joe Saunders could be had, Sandy won’t go near them because they want more than a one-year contract (and Loshe declined his qualifying offer from St. Louis, so a compensation draft pick is attached to him).

Last, but certainly not least, we have the outfield. What looked to be a strength in the first half with Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Lucas Duda ended up becoming one of the most glaring weaknesses with the returns of Jason Bay and Andres Torres off the disabled list. Like the bullpen, it was more addition by subtraction, as New York reached a deal to release Bay from the final year of his contract, and Torres was non-tendered.

Scott Hairston, their biggest power threat (20 HR in 377 ABs), is a free agent; he wants to return, but is looking for around $8 million over two years, which is a lot for what looks like a platoon player. The definites to be on the roster include Duda, Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, and possibly Jordany Valdespin. When it comes to acquisitions this winter, Alderson traded for Collin Cowgill, and recently agreed to sign Andrew Brown. Both players have upside and could pay dividends, but may very well be parts of platoons in center and right field. Many people feel the Mets need more help in the outfield, and although it’s still on their shopping list, they may be done adding outfielders to the roster.

So, to recap, the Mets have quite a bit of money left to spend on their needs in the bullpen, starting rotation, and outfield. To rebuild the ‘pen, they’re reportedly “bottom-feeding.” For the rotation, they’d prefer to sign a hurler to a one-year deal with a low-base salary including incentives. In the outfield, they’ve acquired two minor league players to invite to Big League camp, and they could be done “spending” there.

At this point, the market is pretty bare with Spring Training just over a month away. I have no problem with how Sandy is going about building the bullpen, as I think only a couple arms are needed to add to the young ones who gained experience last year. Nor do I mind him bringing in a pitcher on a one-year flyer, especially with Zack Wheeler likely being ready by the All-Star break. What bothers me is that they haven’t done a whole lot for the outfield. Brown and Cowgill are good pick-ups, but it’s tough for me to think about having nothing but platoons in the outfield heading into the season, as I’m a huge fan of lineup consistency. With all this money the Wilpons received in a recent loan, it would be nice to see it be used to acquire someone like Michael Bourn, who can bring some stability and speed to the outfield. If he’s in center, I feel a lot more comfortable having Duda in left and Captain Kirk in right, with either Brown or Cowgill spelling them as part of a platoon, and the other one on the bench as the fourth outfielder.

But, that’s just me. What would you like to see the Mets do with the rest of their off-season?