Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cliff Lee and Marginal Wins: What Should the Mets Do at the Deadline? (Part 1)

There has been a ton of talk lately - on blogs, in newspapers, on talk radio - about what the Mets will do as we approach the trade deadline here in major league baseball. In this two-parter, we'll take a look at the current state of the team and the free agent market and see if the Mets are being smart by looking at the big-ticket trade items.

Right now, the Mets are in good shape, and look like they may be able to hang in there for a playoff berth for the remainder of the year. Half a game out of first place in the NL East, leading the chase for the Wild Card, and with Beltran's return on the horizon, it no longer seems like dreams of the playoffs are totally far-fetched.

So the question facing our team becomes not "do we make a move?" and instead becomes "what kind of move will we make?" Should the Mets make a big push and acquire Cliff Lee? Should they acquire a mid-level starter like Kevin Millwood or Brett Myers? Perhaps they could add a potent right-handed pinch-hitter to replace Fernando Tatis?

None of these calculations, however, should take place in a vacuum. When we acquire a guy like Cliff Lee, we don't just acquire Cliff Lee -- we add him to the rotation at the expense of another player. Each transaction takes place in an intricate context which will involve corresponding roster moves both this year and into the future.

I'm going to ignore the implications of any move down the road (i.e. draft picks, future free agency, etc.) and simply take a look at where the Mets stand as a team and where it makes the most sense for them to make an improvement.

The State of the Union

Offensive Ranks (of 16 in NL):
Runs: 7th, Home Runs: 12th, Stolen Bases: 1st, OBP: 11th, Slugging: 11th, OPS: 11th, Wins Above Replacement: +10.3

Pitching Ranks (of 16 in NL):
ERA: 6th, Hits Allowed: 10th, Walks Allowed: 15th, Strikeouts: 7th, Double Plays: 3rd, Fielding Pct.: 4th, Wins Above Replacement: +7.7

Granted, this is a very elementary way of looking at the Mets statistically - but we have to fairly assess our strengths and weaknesses before we can understand how to best improve the team. Below, is a view player-by-player, with numbers courtesy of

David Wright: 3.6
Angel Pagan: 2.7
Jason Bay: 1.4
Jose Reyes: 1.2
Jeff Francoeur: 1.0
Ike Davis: 0.8
Blanco+Barajas: 1.5
Ruben Tejada: 0.1
Luis Castillo: -0.3

Mike Pelfrey: 2.8
Johan Santana: 1.7
Francisco Rodriguez: 1.4
R.A. Dickey: 1.3
Pedro Feliciano: 1.0
Hisanori Takahashi: 0.8
Dessens, Mejia, Niese, Parnell: less than 0.5, more than 0.0

From these numbers together, we can get a general idea of how the team has been performing. Just as importantly, though, watching the games gives us far better insight to what this all means.

Offensively, the Mets have been scoring runs at a decent clip despite ranking 11th out of 16 in the league in OPS. This is due partly to timely hitting, good aggressive baserunning, and playing to the strengths of Citi Field. The engine behind the offense has been Wright, but the offense has truly turned it on since the addition of Davis and with Reyes returning to form.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Mets pitching is a tale of two seasons. Once John Maine and Oliver Perez were jettisonned from the rotation, the Mets pitching has been nothing short of spectacular. It's no secret that Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana have been spectacular all year - but it is the addition of Dickey and Takahashi which has made this remarkable run possible.

So in what areas are the Mets best-suited to improve themselves? What areas are we currently weakest? What kind of commodities are available on the market? Can we get a reliever at 50 cents on the dollar instead of Cliff Lee at a premium? Below, we'll take a look at the offense and see if we can draw some conclusions.

Second Base
On the offensive side of the ball, there really seem to be only two positions where we are not trotting out a player who is above league average already - 2B and RF. With Beltran looming, the issue in right field may actually sort itself out before we have to make any decisions regarding trades.

As for second base, is there anything out there that could help us? And do so above and beyond Ruben Tejada? Fangraphs, which actually calculates WAR differently from baseball-reference it appears, has Tejada as worth 0.4 WAR at the moment -- -0.9 at the plate and an enormous +2.1 in the field. So what else is there?

Of the top several names on the list, sorted by WAR, none of them are moving. Some are cornerstones of their franchises (Utley, Cano), others are in the NL East (Prado, Uggla) and others are injured (Pedroia). It is not until you get down the list until a few intriguing names appear.

Kelly Johnson (2.2 WAR) had a great start to his season, but has since tailed off considerably. Could he be had cheaply if the Diamondbacks fall out of contention? Orlando Hudson, who it appears will never go away, is having a fine season (1.8 WAR) for the Twins. Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez are finding it hard to find playing time for the Rays. And of course, Ty Wigginton continues to pound away at the baseball down there in Baltimore (0.8 WAR). It should be noted however that Wigginton has been worth +8.4 with the bat and -8.7 in the field, so a Wigginton/Tejada combination may work wonders if he can still play second base[1].

What's the bottom line of all of this? A one to two win improvement is available.

Ruben Tejada has been doing a great job, especially when you consider his youth. He was playing as a 19-year-old in Double-A last season! But with Tejada grading out as worth approximately 0.6-1.0 WAR for the rest of the year, and with very few available upgrades on the market, second base does not appear to be an obvious place to upgrade.

If there were one player worth pusruing, I'd say that it is Kelly Johnson. And it looks like he may be on the market. ZiPS has Johnson projected to hit a robust .273/.355/.470 for the rest of the year, a number that would look great batting seventh in this Mets lineup. If Johnson continued his great play this year, he'd be worth approximately 2.2-2.5 WAR the rest of this season, a meager 1-2 game improvement over playing Tejada every day.

Although it does not appear that the Mets are actively looking to improve their offense, Johnson may be had if the price is right. At a win or more of improvement on the cheap, with a player who could stay with the Mets beyond this year, it's worth looking into.

Next time, a look at starters and relievers.

[1] Interestingly, his UZR/150 at has actually been better at second base than at first base (-14.4 to -23.0). For his career, he's been better at second base than any other infield position. And he's also played right field!!! Hint, hint.

[2] Also, I did not see this until I was finished writing, but check out this fantastic piece on Ty Wigginton's trade value over at

There is a great dollars and cents discussion of what Wigginton is worth and might demand in a trade, and it's worthy of a read. For what it's worth, I'd take either of the trade proposals he mentions at the bottom of the article in a heartbeat for Wigginton.

1 comment:

fafhrd said...

What about the Mets going after Alberto Callaspo, the 2B of the Royals? If they're willing to move him for the right deal, I'd consider it. He's solid defensively, and has FAR more power and will hit pretty good for average.