Saturday, January 16, 2010

Carlos Beltran's Surgery and Moving On, Part 2

So let's say you are not like me, and you don't think that the Mets should stand pat this season and focus on 2010. Let's say that you think the Mets should still be spending money, and still be going for it. If you thought that, what would you want to do? Looking at the Mets as currently constituted, minus Beltran, what is the smartest thing you could do to improve the roster with the remaining free agents?

A few days ago, Sam Page over at Amazin Avenue (been linking to Sam a lot lately) posted a handy chart with rough estimates of how many Wins Above Replacement each of the Mets starters could be expected to provide:

You can quibble with the numbers, but generally speaking I like his estimates. So looking at that -- what do we do? What are our potential areas of improvement? If we were going to take a shot this season, where would we improve? Obviously, there are a few places you can start: First Base, Second Base, Right Field, Starters #3-#5.

As I wrote earlier this month -- not ALL improvements are created equal. In fact, a run prevented is more valuable than a run scored. That being said, if I were the Mets and I were going for it this year, there is ONE place that I would start.

Starting pitching.

If the Mets are still in it to win it, they are going to have to take some chances. Lucky for them, there are chances still out there to take. Here are my boys - the "Mets Are Still Going For It" all-star team:

1. Erik Bedard

Bedard is a huge talent, no question. As we all know, however - he is injury prone. Over the last two seasons, he has pitched 81 and 83 innings. However, he IS only 30 years old. ZiPS projects him next year to reach 106 innings, but post a phenomenal 3.12 ERA and strike out 110 guys in only 106 innings. If he can be had on a short, incentive-laden deal, the Mets should go for it. He may not be ready for opening day, but in his best seasons with the Orioles, he was worth over 5(!) WAR.

2. Ben Sheets

Sheets and Bedard (and Rich Harden) all have basically the same story - great talents with injury issues. I think Sheets will end up being a worse deal than Bedard in terms of dollars-to-risk, based on his better reputation and the fact that he's actually had 200-inning seasons. Ben Sheets has been worth over 3.7 WAR 6 out of the last 7 years he has pitched - even in injury shortened years.

3. Pedro Martinez
4. Chien-Ming Wang

Pedro was worth 2/3 of a win last season in only nine regular season starts. Chien-Ming Wang was worth over 4 WAR a year until his short campaign in 2008.

These are the risky bets. But if the Mets want to compete, they are going to have to take some chances. If the Mets could sign both Bedard and Sheets to slot in behind Santana, they would stand a chance of being vastly improved.

Projecting Bedard at 3 WAR (he posted a WAR of 1.9 last year in only 83 innings) and Sheets at 3 WAR would improve the Mets my a whopping six games. The rotation would then be Santana, Bedard, Sheets, Pelfrey, and you choice of Niese, Maine, or Perez. One of the great things about improving your rotation is that you can sometimes move a starter into the bullpen, fortifying that unit as well.

Compare those acquisitions to the acquisition of Orlando Hudson to play second base. The Mets might be better if they signed him --- but the marginal improvement he would make to the team wouldn't even make a splash. As we wrote here in November:

Orlando Hudson is not really that much of an upgrade over Castillo... His batting line last year was a paltry .283/.357/.417 with 9 home runs and 8 stolen bases. He was basically Luis Castillo with 30 less points in on-base percentage and 70 more points of slugging. A few more home runs, and a dozen less steals.

In fairness, Hudson does tend to rank better than Castillo when it comes to defensive metrics... Therefore, even with their hitting being comparable, Hudson came out as worth $13.0 million last year compared to Castillo's $7 million.

However, we are comparing Castillo's age 32-34 seasons with Hudson's prime years of 30-32. It is probable (or definite) that Hudson's fielding is going to see a severe drop in the next couple of years.

I LIKE Orlando Hudson -- he's a nice guy, a great interview, and seemingly a good clubhouse presence. But don't be fooled -- making the swap of Castillo for Hudson most likely won't make the Mets better, and stands a chance of making them worse.
We need to look NOT ONLY at what our money will buy us --- but who the new player will be replacing. Signing Hudson to replace Castillo, or signing Molina to replace Blanco/Thole would make the Mets better -- but those are moves with NO upside. They would improve us by a win at most. In the Mets current position, they need to address areas of weakness with investments which could pay BIG dividends. I hope they look long and hard at a high-reward starter.

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