As we close the book on 2010 and (mercifully) the Minaya regime, it is time to draw up the wish list of what new GM Sandy Alderson and company will hopefully leave under our Christmas Tree, or Hanukah Bush….or Winter Solstice Chanting Circle. You know what, let’s call it a Bat Rack – let’s see what Sandy Claus will leave in our Bat Rack for the holidays. Of course, there’s liable to be some coal in there – I’m afraid we all weren’t good. But with the Winter Meetings upon us…let’s see what (if anything) can be done to boost the farm system as we head to 2011!
Rule V draft – for the uninitiated, the Rule V draft was put in place to offer minor leaguers who were victims of a logjam in their current organization a chance to catch on in the bigs with another team. The catch is, these players come with strings attached. For each player you take in the Major League phase of the draft (we won’t get into the Minor league phase here) a team must pay the player’s old team $50K. But here’s the kicker, that player must then be on your MAJOR LEAGUE roster (the 25 man one) all year (except for injury rehab). If you try to send them down, whether it be in Spring Training or next to last day of the season, that player’s old team can claim him back. Seeing that the Mets have at least two dead roster spots (coughOliverPerezandLuisCastillo) it is highly unlikely that they will further tie their hands with an unproven newcomer from another organization who limits roster flexibility for the rest of the season.
Trades – as we have seen form the recent Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox deal, most major leaguer for minor leaguers trades involve one team acquiring a stockpile of young cheap talent that may have an impact later in exchange for an established (and expensive) player who can have an impact right now. The two Mets who have been floated out there as a possibility to be dealt and fetch back some prospects are Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran. Reyes is in the final year of his contract and is due $11MM this year. Despite some unevenness and injuries over the last few seasons he is still considered one of the more unique talents in the game. Beltran, for his part, is owed $19MM this season and is also in the final year of a deal. He is also coming off an injury plagued season. Both of these men will be highly motivated to have big years as they search for their next payday, and it could put the Mets in a good position to flip them for a serious infusion of talent…at the trade deadline.
After the last few seasons, which can only be described as rocky, the Wilpons – with a new front office in tow – are looking to turn their fortunes in 2011. Now granted, they are realists (we think) and don’t expect to contend, but getting out of the gate quickly and giving the fans a competitive summer will go a long way to making the fan base feel better. Reyes and Beltran are a must have if the Mets intend to do just that. But as the season wears on, and the Phillies and Braves begin to pull away, expect the Mets to look into moving at least one of these guys. For the Winter Meetings however, they are likely to lie low.
And frankly, the Mets only have about $5MM to in payroll flexibility this offseason, and their minor league system is seen as having few blue chip prospects. They’re not looking to drain the system any further for someone they can’t afford. Sorry…
Draft – bingo. Here is where this new regime will have their time to shine. For years, the Mets have stuck to MLB’s slot ‘recommendations’ when it came to the draft, essentially eschewing their financial advantage in nabbing top amateur talent for lesser players who will be easier signs. Meanwhile, other clubs – both big and small market – have splashed the cash necessary to get such talent, and developed far stronger farm systems. The Wilpons seem to get ‘getting it’ going over slot last year for two players, including Matt Harvey, a highly regarded right hander out of UNC. Now add the new regime of Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta and JP Riccardi, and the Mets are primed to use their financial muscle in the drafts for the foreseeable future. In June, the Mets will select 13th overall, and the new brass has made it clear that they are looking to be aggressive in scouting and player development. Tangibly what does this mean? For starters, the Latin American signees will probably be slowed down in their development path, meaning the Fernando Martinezes of the world will not be over promoted to being the youngest player in the league at each minor league stop. Rather, they will have the opportunity at each level to hone their game, and only move when they are ready. Also, as noted in the book Moneyball, DePodesta, who worked in the A’s front office that was bequeathed to Billy Beane by Alderson, is an innovator in finding undervalued talent and seeing things other team don’t. A repeated phrase from Riccardi after he took the Mets job was “focusing on the core” – meaning that nabbing talent and giving them the needed time to flourish is going to be job one. Not signing the Jayson Werth’s of the world (btw, enjoy that back end of that contract, Washington!). Not sexy, but slow and steady wins the race.
In total, don’t look for a big splash in the coming weeks, and the 2011 Mets will probably resemble the 2010 Mets in many significant ways. This may feel like a lump of coal right now, but perhaps the biggest gift Sandy Claus can give the Mets fan base is the one that will pay off in spades down the line: Patience.