For the first time in arguably three seasons, David Wright is playing like a franchise player again. Whether it was the power draught of 2009 (just 10 HR, .447 SLG), wondrous wiffing of 2010 (161 K’s, 10.4% SwStr%, 76.6% Contract%), cracked back of 2011 (.254/.345/.427 line in just 447 PA’s), and generally poor defense in each of those three seasons (-12.2 UZR/150, -9.5 UZR/150, and -16.4 UZR/150, respectively), Wright simply had not been playing to the caliber of his 2005-to-2008-self.
But perhaps finally feeling at home in Citi Field, David Wright is back, baby. So far in 2012, the 29 year-old has posted a fantastic .323/.415/.533 line with 16 HR, 75 RBI, 70 R, and 12 SB in 487 pain-free PA’s. In addition, the Norfolk-native is fielding like the Gold Glover he once was (but never truly deserved to be), gloving to the tune of a 9.3 UZR/150. With just one year remaining on the $55 million contract he signed in 2007, it’s pretty obvious the Mets want and need to extend the man.
However, merely extending David Wright won’t be as simple as it sounds. According his interview with Mike Puma, it appears as though handing the homegrown hero a blank check won’t cut it:
“The money issue for me, I don’t think that will be the deciding factor. You want to be able to win, and I’ve only experienced a little bit of that here. In a perfect world, we get this thing turned around and going in the right direction and ultimately I get to experience the bad, the ugly and the good here, which includes winning. I told these guys we’re not going to discuss [my extension] during the season, either this one or next [....] If we’re not going to talk about it during this season or next season, then I guess the timing would be during this off-season.”
Okay, that all makes sense. But what team doesn’t want to win, right? Unfortunately, that team may be the New York Mets. Assuming the Mets finish under .500 this season, it will be the fourth straight season as such. In addition, the Mets have failed to reach the playoffs since 2006, and haven’t made a World Series appearance since 2000. Essentially, when it comes to “winning,” the Mets aren’t exactly the top of the heap.
Also it’s obvious Wright wants to stay with the Mets beyond 2013, but he couldn’t be more transparent about what that will take. Aside from offering him a long term contract (at least five years) comprised of many millions (at least $110 million), the ownership is going to have to spend a decent chunk of change–in addition to Wright’s actual contract–to illustrate to the slugger that they’re serious about winning. And my guess is they’ll need to be in the $110-120 million range (15.7% to 26.3% boost) in order to do so.
Arguably the Mets biggest weaknesses are at catcher, the bullpen, and the outfield. The team recently acquired right-handed hitting catcher Kelly Shoppach–most likely to platoon with Josh Thole, who hits left-handed. The platoon makes sense, as Shoppach smacks lefties (career .270/.363/.530 line in 570 PA’s), and Thole prefers facing righties (career .286/.356/.361 line in 802 PA’s). But unlike Shoppach, Thole has zero power and has been horrendous defensively (6 Errors, 15 PB’s, and 25% CS%). With few redeeming qualities as a hitter and backstop, it might be best to store Thole in Triple-A–next season–until he learns how to block a pitch and toss a runner. Instead, the Mets should sign or trade for another catcher, one who could hold his own behind the dish and in the batter’s box. And perhaps that other catcher is Chris Iannetta.
Even though Iannetta hasn’t been great in 2012 (.214/.344/.427 line), he knows how to take a walk (16% BB%), can hit for power (.214 ISO), and is a respectable defender (0 E, 3 PB’s, and 27.27% CS%). For argument sake, the 29 year-old catcher also boasts three double-digit homerun seasons (18 HR in 2008, 16 HR in 2009, and 14 HR in 2011), and owns a career .430 SLG. Adding a guy like Iannetta–in addition to re-signing Shoppach–would also give the Mets a ton of depth behind the plate; an asset that has been rare in Citi Field. Assuming the Angels cut ties with Iannetta (as he has been disappointing by their standards), he shouldn’t cost the Mets much more than $4-5 million on a one-year deal.
From a mound perspective, the Mets also need to revamp their fledgling bullpen. One of the more intriguing rumors dispersed this season (for the Mets, at least), was how the front office turned down the Padres offer of steady reliever Luke Gregerson for “infielder” Daniel Murphy. Aside from hitting .293 in 453 PA’s this season, Murphy has been a pretty mediocre player in 2012 (and before prior to 2012, for that matter). The “infielder” owns a forgettable 6% BB%, .121 ISO, and horrific -13.7 UZR/150 in 837.6 innings at second base this season. Sure, he makes very good contact (89% Contact%), and is probably a legit .300 hitter (.326 BABIP in 2012 vs. .321 BABIP career supports high BA), but he’s simply not a second baseman, and doesn’t have the pop to play anywhere else on the diamond (including DH, for American League teams). So what gives? By comparison, Luke Gregerson has been a very valuable reliever for the Padres since 2009, owning a career 2.99 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 3.28 K/BB in 262 IP. The 28 year-old hasn’t skipped a beat in 2012 either, posting a 2.55 ERA (vs. 3.17 xFIP), 1.11 WHIP, and 3.73 K/BB in 53 IP. But who will play second base if Murphy is sipping lemonade in the beautiful 70′s sunshine of San Diego?
Aside from giving Jordany Valdespin a shot, the Mets should hedge their bet by bringing in veteran infielder (and former Met!) Marco Scutaro. The 36 year-old has bounced around from the Athletics, to the Blue Jays, to the Red Sox, to the Rockies, and now–as of July 27–to the Giants. While he’s no longer the most ideal candidate as a starter, he does have solid OB skills (career 8.9% BB%), slightly above-average pop for a small-sticked middle-infielder (career .116 ISO), and a respectable glove at shortstop (-2.6 UZR/150), second base (1.1 UZR/150), and third base (5.5 UZR/150) for that matter. Heck, some combination of Valdespin and Scutaro–plus Gregerson, of course–seems better than Murphy and God-knows-who in relief.
Getting back to relievers, the Mets can’t just add Gregerson and call it a day. Assuming Frank Francisco is still around in 2013 (hey, they owe him $6.5 million), he’ll join Bobby Parnell and Josh Edgin as the only 2012 relievers who should still be in a Mets uniform next season; so they’ll need at least three more relievers. Since Francisco and Parnell more or less proved their inability to close games, the Mets should take a chance on Ryan Madson, who could have been the steal of the 2012 off-season (the Cincinnati Reds signed him to a one-year, $8.5 million deal) if not for his surprising, year-ending, Tommy John surgery. In his first full-season as a closer for the Phillies in 2011, Madson dominated hitters with a 2.37 ERA (vs. 2.94 xFIP), 1.15 WHIP, and 3.87 K/BB in 60.6 IP. With three effective pitches–featuring a change-up that’s 10 MPH slower than his average 94 MPH fastball–Madson is a great closing option. And considering he’s coming off a blank 2012, the Mets could ink him to a team-friendly contract (think: one year, $5 million with a ton of incentives).
Continuing in the vein of “low risk, high reward,” it would be an interesting gamble to bring good ole Pedro Feliciano back to Queens. If you recall, the Yankees signed “Perpetual Pedro” to a laughable two-year, $8 million, hoping that the lefty-specialist could double as a setup man. Well, that didn’t happen. In fact, Feliciano hasn’t thrown a pitch since 2010, when he was a member of the New York Mets. Despite the failed signing, Feliciano is on-track to make his Pinstripe debut in September, and has two scoreless Minor League rehab innings to his name so far (as well as 4 K’s). With Josh Edgin as the main left-handed reliever in the bullpen, Feliciano would make a very nice second lefty option.
The final bullpen piece for the Mets needs to be Carlos Villanueva. The long-time Brewers pitcher has found a home in Toronto, pitching mostly out of the bullpen. In 80.6 IP so far in 2012, the right-hander has hurled a 3.12 ERA (vs. 3.84 xFIP), 1.25 WHIP, and 2.45 K/BB. He’s certainly not dominant enough to be a “late-inning” guy, but at the back-end of the Mets bullpen, Villanueva represents the best “long man” the Mets have had since Darren Oliver. And folks, that dates back to 2006. The 28 year-old also has a ton of experience as a starting pitcher, so if a spot start were to be needed, the Mets would no longer need the services of the Miguel Batista‘s of the world. That’s worth $2.5-3 million, easily.
With catchers and relievers out of the way, the two biggest, most lucrative pieces needed to convince David Wright to re-sign are B.J. Upton and Cody Ross. Between Jason Bay, Andres Torres, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Lucas Duda, the 2012 Mets outfield must be one of the worst in their history. And that’s saying a lot. But it’s time to fix this; and by doing so, that means signing B.J. Upton and Cody Ross. These two are simply a must. Even though one can make a case that Michael Bourn, who is also a free-agent, might be a better alternative to Upton due to his speed and glove, Upton has a higher overall ceiling. Bourn, who has gloved an awe-inspiring 21.6 UZR/150 in center field so far for the Braves this season, has also seen his lofty 11.8 PA/SB (61 SB in 722 PA’s) reduce to just 17.4 PA/SB (31 SB in 542 PA’s). He just doesn’t have good enough OB skills (career .339 OBP) or pop (career .095 ISO) to carry him as his speed continues to diminish over the next few years.
That said, Bourn will still entertain more suitors than Upton. The 28 year-old Upton has posted a pedestrian .243/.300/.400 line in 2012 to-date, but has also swatted 13 HR and swiped 22 SB. Though he’s not as great a defensive center fielder as Bourn, Upton does possess a career 3.8 UZR/150 in center field–which is still very good. Even with Upton’s down offensive season, he still has a ton of value for a team like the Mets, who lack a dynamic player atop their lineup, and in the outfield. On a side note, David Wright also happens to be good friends with Upton, as they both played Little League together in Chesapeake, Virginia. Can you say, “Brownie points?” Considering Upton’s down 2012, and inconsistent career, the Mets could potentially net Upton on a three-year, $35 million contract. And if he plays closer to his 2011-self (.243/.331/.429 line, 23 HR, 81 RBI, 82 R, and 36 SB), Upton would be a very welcome addition.
Though Cody Ross is the less important outfield piece of the two, the Mets cannot afford to hand Lucas Duda the starting right field job again in 2013. Signed to a one-year deal by the Red Sox this past off-season, Ross has enjoyed, arguably, his best season since 2008. The 31 year-old outfielder has posted a .274/.341/.525 line with 18 HR, 59 RBI, and 53 R, and gloved a combined 7.7 UZR/150 in all three outfield positions (with the majority of his play in right field, sporting a fantastic 11.9 UZR/150). Seeing as he’s only making $3 million this season, Ross is certainly in-line for a substantial raise. But even with his great 2012, it would be shocking if a team offered him more than a two-year, $15 deal. Ross would be a perfect fit with the 2013 (and 2014) Mets as the their two most “ready” outfielders are Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt Den Dekker. Adding Ross for two years would help bridge the gap until Brandon Nimmo is ready–and hopefully during that period, Ross could produce like he has so far in 2012.
Between adding Chris Iannetta, Luke Gregerson, Marco Scutaro, Ryan Madson, Pedro Feliciano, Carlos Villanueva, B.J. Upton, and Cody Ross, the Mets would have to tack-on anywhere from $35-40 million in salary this coming off-season. It’s also important to remember that pre-2014, the Mets will be freed of Johan Santana, Jason Bay, and Frank Francisco, who’s 2013 salaries amount to $48 million. Yet, given the lack of clarity on their prospective spending abilities, it’s doubtful the Mets will shell out anything close to that amount, or sign/trade for nearly as many players as listed above. But if the Mets fail to make a variety of bold statements this off-season, David Wright–no matter what contract the Mets throw at him–will be as good as gone.
[Click here to download an excel document with my full 2013 proposed roster, featuring projected salaries for acquisitions and arbitration-eligible players.]