According to Adam Rubin, the New York Mets only plan to spend between $10 to $15 million this off-season, despite favorably settling their Bernie Madoff-related lawsuit mid-season. The news is a tremendous letdown to Mets fans everywhere, as homegrown star David Wright more or less stated that any extension discussion would be contingent on the result of this coming off-season. Yes, fans can probably kiss Wright goodbye, and endure many subsequent seasons of losses with players like Miguel Batista taking the field. That is, unless, they trade Johan Santana this off-season.
The Mets 2013 payroll, without even adding a player, already stands at around $84 million. This is due to contractual raises to David Wright (from $15 million to $16 million), R.A. Dickey (from $4.25 Million to $5 Million), Jonathon Niese (from $469K to $3 Million), Frank Francisco (from $5.5 Million to $6.5 Million), and Johan Santana (from $24 Million to $25.5 Million). In addition, the Mets also have a variety of players who are arbitration eligible (that they should retain), like Ike Davis (who will make around $3 Million), Josh Thole (who will make around $750K), Daniel Murphy (who will make around $3 Million), and Bobby Parnell (who will make around $850K). Assuming the Mets want to address their outfield and bullpen situation, spending a meager $10 to $15 million won’t buy them much.
The knee-jerk reaction of most Mets fans would be to instead trade Jason Bay, who scheduled to make a whopping $16 Million in 2013. But since that contract is essentially unmovable due to his reduced state as a ballplayer, Santana and his comparatively “reasonable” $25.5 Million is the only big salary the Mets could conceivably shed. But what team–besides the New York Yankees–could take on such a mammoth salary? As SI.com points out, perhaps the “suddenly flush” Los Angeles Dodgers could be a potential taker. The Dodgers have a solid one-two-three of Clayton Kershaw (2.90 ERA vs. 3.30 xFIP), Chad Billingsley (3.62 ERA vs. 3.73 xFIP), and Chris Capuano (3.14 ERA vs. 3.84 xFIP) atop their rotation, but after that, it gets a little bleak. Joe Blanton is a free agent after the season, leaving the Dodgers with Ted Lilly (just 48.6 IP in 2012) and Aaron Harang (3.65 ERA vs. 4.74 xFIP).
But if the Dodgers truly need another dependable, quality starter, why wouldn’t they just dip into free agency? It’s a fair question, as the likes of Zack Greinke, Edwin Jackson, Colby Lewis, Francisco Liriano, Kyle Lohse, Shaun Marcum, Hiroki Kuroda, and Anibal Sanchez would all be available. But all of those pitchers would rightfully demand multi-year contracts, with money far exceeding the cost of Johan Santana for a single season; especially since the Dodgers wouldn’t be on the hook for all $25.5 Million (and the $5.5 Million buyout for 2014).
Hypothetically, if the Dodgers do bite on Santana, one has to wonder what the return would be for the Mets. In order to help even out the contracts, the Mets could take back Aaron Harang, who is scheduled to make $7 Million in 2013 (with a $2 Million buyout in 2014). Using Harang as a fifth starter would be a prudent move by the Mets, so as not to rush the likes of Zack Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia, or Jeurys Familia (at least until mid-season). But the Mets shouldn’t just dump Santana and get “nothing” in return. Aside from Harang, Jerry Sands would be a logical target for the Mets, as the 24 year-old might get pushed out of a starting outfield gig by recently-acquired Shane Victorino, who the Dodgers will likely push hard to re-sign. While Sands also plays first base, his lack of success in the Majors (.244/.325/.376 line in 251 PA’s) might give the Dodgers the “James Loney chills,” prompting them to look elsewhere for a starting first baseman. For the Mets, Sands’ position flexibility makes him an ideal bench candidate, but even more importantly, the right-handed hitting outfielder would make a perfect complement to a Lucas Duda platoon (assuming they kick Bay to the curb).
In the event the Dodgers would rather keep Sands around on their bench for depth, the Mets could instead target Joc Pederson, who was ranked as the team’s 9th best prospect by John Sickels before the season. Sickels said Pederson had a “very attractive combination of tools and skills. [And his] grade could be much higher next year if he can hit outside the Pioneer League.” Pederson has certainly achieved that in 2012, posting a .313/.398/.521 line with 17 HR, 59 RBI, 85 R, and 22 SB in 439 PA’s for Advanced-A. The 20 year-old outfielder might not be Major League ready like Sands, but given his tools, talent, and praise, he seems worth the wait.
In addition to Sands or Pederson, the Mets should also demand back a reliever; and Shawn Tolleson could fit the bill. With Kenley Jansen, Javy Guerra, Matt Guerrier, Todd Coffey, Scott Elbert, and Ronald Belisario all under contact or team control (and arguably more effective), it’s likely the Dodgers would rather sign a top-flight reliever (like like a Brandon League, Ryan Madson, Mike Adams, Jason Grilli, Joel Peralta, or Jeremy Affeldt) than hand the final bullpen spot to Tolleson. Even though the 24 year-old right-handed reliever has been solid for LA (3.15 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 1.60 K/BB in 20 IP), he was much more dominant between Double-A/Triple-A, hurling a combined 2.82 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 6.80 K/BB. Regardless of Tolleson’s dominant K/BB in the Minors, Major League hitters immediately saw through his two-pitch, fastball-dominated repertoire. The righty probably isn’t a closer-worthy reliever, but would still be a welcome addition to the Mets fledgling bullpen situation.
Aside from acquiring a fifth starter, outfield platoon option (or outfield prospect), and potentially helpful reliever, the Mets would also save a ton of money. Assuming they also kick around $3 Million to the Dodgers in this trade, the team would still be saving about $14.5 Million from dealing Santana to the Dodgers–money that should immediately be spent in free-agency. The difference between spending about $30 Million and just $15 Million could be the difference between competing in 2013 as well as retaining David Wright for years to come, as opposed to neither of those things.