This offseason, Sports on Earth is asking baseball writers what they would do if they ran the front office.
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Never before has being the Mets general manager been so easy.
The most difficult decisions the Mets will have to make this offseason are what to do with third baseman David Wright, to whom they have reportedly already made their best offer, and reigning Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey. Otherwise, the roster is almost set. Not that the roster is any good, mind you, but with the Mets still clinging to a payroll under $100 million, there won’t be much noteworthy activity this offseason for GM Sandy Alderson. He’ll likely be shopping in the bargain aisle.
Last season the Mets ended up with a $94 million payroll. Yet already the Mets in 2013 are obligated to pay $74 million to just six players: Johan Santana, Wright, Frank Francisco, Dickey, Jon Niese and Jason Bay.
Certainly Bay’s negotiated release will give the Mets a tiny bit of wiggle room, but nobody involved in that deal has suggested that a significant amount of Bay’s contract was deferred. A guess is that perhaps the Mets get about $3-$5 million of relief this season, which likely will be taken up by projected arbitration-related raises to players such as Andres Torres, Josh Thole, Ike Davis, and Dan Murphy.
It’s quite possible that Alderson may only have about $10-$15 million to fill out significant holes on the roster. Amazingly, the big-city, big-market Mets might have the least amount of financial flexibility of any team in the majors -- and they have just as many needs as anybody. The Mets don’t have many assets, so it’s unrealistic to think they could make any significant trades without having to give up one of their young prospects, something they should not consider.
Bay’s release means the team is missing at least one corner outfielder. In prior years, the cash-rich Mets would have likely been suitors for players such as B.J. Upton and Nick Swisher, both of whom would be terrific fits on the roster. But Upton has already signed elsewhere and the Mets aren’t going to be bidding on Swisher.
Under these financial limitations, then, perhaps the Mets’ best option might be to take a flyer on Grady Sizemore, who missed all of last year because of problems with his surgically repaired knees. Nobody expects Sizemore to be the dynamic player who posted a .907 OPS in 2006. Sizemore might not even make it out of spring training. But if he would accept a minor league invite then it’s a low-risk move. Sizemore could regain some form and then have trade value, which could net the team a prospect in trade if they fall out of contention early, like most expect.
Re-signing Scott Hairston, who had an .867 OPS against lefties last year, is certainly also an option worth exploring, although he might be tempted by a team who can make a more lucrative offer.
For the infield, the Mets should see if shortstop Stephen Drew is willing to take a one-year, $5-$7 million deal to rebuild his value. The Mets could be an attractive option for Drew if the team promises to give him playing time at shortstop. And again, the Mets could net a prospect in trade if Drew bounces back from a horrible 2012 season. Or Drew could be a longer-term solution if he enjoys his season in New York.
Having the above-average defender Drew would also allow the Mets to shift Ruben Tejada to second base to replace the defensively challenged Dan Murphy, who could then act as a super utility man. Murphy will never be considered an above average -- or even average -- defender at any position, but by picking and choosing where and when he plays you can minimize the damage. For example, if the Mets have a groundball pitcher throwing on a particular night, perhaps you would play Murphy in the outfield. With a fly ball pitcher on the mound then Murphy at second base doesn’t seem so horrible.
It’s all about maximizing the Mets’ limited options, and not getting tied up with any long-term free agent contracts.
To bolster -- and we’re using that term loosely because, again, we’re bargain shopping -- the roster, the Mets should sign Francisco Liriano, yet another reclamation project. Early in his career, when both were on the Twins, Liriano was considered the next Johan Santana. Under Santana’s tutelage, Liriano became one of the most prized young pitchers in the game. The Mets should reunite the two and see if something clicks.
That leaves us with the Wright and Dickey situations.
“If Sandy Alderson traded me tomorrow and got prospects for me, I’d get it,” Dickey told reporters on Tuesday at a charity appearance at the DREAM Charter School in Manhattan. “That’s what he’s employed to do. He is employed to research and find every opportunity to make the New York Mets better. I completely understand the business side of that. I would be sad about that, certainly. But at the same time there would be no acrimony or animosity about the move.”
The question, though, is can the Mets actually get prospects for Dickey? He’s 38 years old and coming off a career year. It’s not likely the Mets can get a prospect haul for Dickey big enough to offset the value he adds to the franchise off and on the field. He’s one of the team’s most popular players and incurring the backlash that would result from a trade for a B-grade prospect simply doesn’t make sense.
The Mets still need a reason for fans to attend games this year, and Dickey is without a doubt one of the team’s best attractions.
Ideally, the Mets would simply let Dickey play this season under the one year for $5 million that remains on his contract. That would allow the team to see if Dickey was more than just a one-year fluke or whether he’s become a true ace.
If Dickey pitches well in 2013 then the Mets could offer him an extension, or they could make him a qualifying offer that would allow them to net a first round pick in case Dickey signed elsewhere. That first-round pick is likely to be a better prospect than any trade offer they’re likely to get this offseason.
But Dickey doesn’t want to play under a one-year contract, and since players aren’t robots, it’s possible that his unhappiness could lead to a decline, which would be bad for everyone involved.
“I would not want to negotiate during the season,” Dickey said on Tuesday. “A lot of the times you end up coming back on a lame duck contract and it’s kind of a message that we don’t want you here beyond this year. Hopefully that’s not the case. That would be sad.”
Using the recent one-year, $12 million deal signed by Andy Pettitte and the one-year, $15 million deal signed by Hiroki Kuroda as benchmarks, the Mets should offer Dickey a two-year extension at about $12-$15 million per year. If the Mets can’t afford to pay the reigning Cy Young award winner a contract in that reasonable range, then MLB needs to force the Wilpons to sell the franchise because they are in a worse financial position than anyone imagined.
Finally, the Wright extension is an absolute no brainer. The current rumored eight-year, $140 million offer (with a chunk of money deferred) that the Mets have made to Wright seems to be a positive development and a good starting point for negotiations. New York must find a way to secure their 29-year-old franchise player. Losing Wright not only would be a blow to the team on the field, but it would devastate an already disillusioned fan base.
Signing Wright is about the easiest thing the Mets can do in an already easy offseason.
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Arangure has been a baseball writer since 2003. He has worked as a senior writer for ESPN and The Washington Post. He's still looking for a Mexican restaurant in New York City that's as good as something from his hometowns of Tijuana/San Diego. He doesn't think he'll find one.