Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Running Out of Opportunities

On Monday, Ken Rosenthal reported that two more corner outfielders were coming off the market - Pat Burrell and Milton Bradley. These signings represent two more missed opportunities by the Mets, who desperately need to add a right-handed bat or a switch hitter to a lineup that is far too left-handed right now.

That's why Burrell actually should've been a key target for the Mets this off-season. Although the Mets seem content to begin the 2009 season with Fernando Tatis and Daniel Murphy as platoon partners in left field, they would be making a big mistake by doing so.

Earlier in the off-season, I put forth the notion that the Mets should sign one of the many good-hit, no-glove corner outfielders saturating the market right now. The Mets could've had their pick of Burrell, Bradley, Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu or Raul Ibanez. (Bradley is actually a pretty good fielder when he's healthy enough to man a position, but he seems more suited to the designated hitter role to rest his perpetually aching body.)

When so many players featuring a similar skill set are on the open market, the going rate for such players is lower than in years where few options are available. It's a simple case of supply and demand - there are more free agent corner outifelders demanding big money than teams who are willing to meet those demands.

This scenario has played out all winter. Ibanez bit first, taking a 3-year, $31.5 million deal from Philadelphia in December. Early off-season speculation sometimes put Ibanez's AAV as high as $15 million, so at the time it actually seemed like a good deal for the Phillies to get him at $10.5 per year. Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. must be having some second thoughts today, after seeing Burrell and Bradley signing for lower AAVs despite both players being much younger and arguably more productive offensively.

The Burrell signing was the real shocker. Bradley has consistently had health and temperment issues throughout his tumultuous career, so any risk-averse GM could be forgiven for passing on him. However, Pat Burrell is an absolute steal at just $8 million a year over a two-year period. Although he struggled to meet expectations in his mid-20s (save for a breakout 2002 season), Burrell has comfortably settled into a reliable .250/.380/.500 groove over the last four seasons. He's always good for 30 home runs and last season banged out nearly 70 extra-base hits.

All of which brings us back to the Mets. If the season started tomorrow, here is the lineup card Jerry Manuel would likely write out:

Jose Reyes - S
Luis Castillo - S
Carlos Beltran - S
David Wright - R
Carlos Delgado -L
Ryan Church - L
Daniel Murphy - L
Brian Schneider - L

What's wrong with this picture? ... No, it's not only that Luis Castillo is in the lineup. I told you that Omar Minaya wasn't going to be able to trade him!

The problem is that the Mets are going to be especially vulnerable to left-handed pitching next season. The bottom of the lineup in particular is a lefty specialist's dream and without some right-handed balance, the Mets are going to be exposed in late inning situations all year long.

Sure, Manuel could bat Castillo eighth in the lineup - where he belongs - and move Church or Murphy into the #2 spot. Such a move would especially benefit Murphy, who some Met fans seem to think is going to be the next Chase Utley no matter where he plays. I happen to like Murphy as a player, although the hype reminds me an awful lot of Gregg Jeffries right now. I still say that he should be given a super-utility role next season, getting 300 at-bats backing up at first base, second base, third base and left field.

Even in this scenario, you still have left-handed batters hitting fifth, sixth and seventh, none of whom can be expected to do anything other than flail helplessly at southpaw offerings. Instead, look at the difference in the lineup if the Mets subtracted Muprhy, added Burrell and batted Castillo eighth:

Jose Reyes - S
Ryan Church - L
Carlos Beltran - S
David Wright - R
Carlos Delgado -L
Pat Burrell - R
Brian Schneider - L
Luis Castillo - S

That lineup is much more balanced and, on the strength of Burrell's bat alone, more dangerous against lefties. Murphy could still substitute for Castillo twice a week and even spell Wright, Burrell and Delgado on occasion, getting 70 starts next year while the Mets figure out where his future spot on the diamond will be. Tatis can still be a platoon player against lefties and see time at first base and right field.

The Mets have spent the last two seasons paying a good-hit, no-glove left fielder $8 million a year to bat behind Carlos Delgado and add a right-handed presence to the lineup. On Monday, a good-hit, no-glove left fielder ten years younger than Moises Alou signed with Tampa Bay for nearly the exact same rate. Where was Omar Minaya?

4 comments:

LCee said...

How about taking a chance on Rocco Baldelli?

Jack Flynn said...

I certainly wouldn't be averse to it - especially if you then considered Tatis the backup corner infielder. But one of the problems I didn't go into was the currently over-crowded roster of position players.

Marlon Anderson is still under contract and unlikely to be released, and the Mets seem to have Jeremy Reed slated for the Endy Chavez role. If you add those guys to Beltran, Church and Murphy, your outfield is set. The Mets are going to sign a middle infield backup, so if Tatis is considered the other backup along with the four starters, that leaves you 11 poisition players in the infield and outfield. Add two catchers and a 12-man pitching staff, and you're at 25 guys.

Absent a trade, Marlon Anderson has to be released or exiled for the Mets to even fit another position player on the roster.

LCee said...

Thanks. How certain are we that the team will keep 12 pitchers on the 25-man roster?

Jack Flynn said...

It's almost a guarantee. Basically no one goes without seven relievers these days. The Mets will likely go without a fifth starter for the first two weeks or so, as long as the schedule permits, but by April 20 or so they'll have 12 pitchers and 13 position players.

The key is getting rid of Anderson ASAP.