By Neil Keefe
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And Ed Coleman
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The Mets are in an awkward place. After getting their fan base excited with a new look to the front office and a new manager, the team is trying to patch up a lot of the poor decisions made by the last regime with minimal spending and minimal resources. The Mets have said publicly that 2011 won’t be a rebuilding year for the team, but it’s beginning to look that way.
With the winter meetings coming to a close and the Mets checking out the bargain bin and the baseball equivalent of the local dollar store, Ed Coleman joined me to talk about the state of the Mets and to try and make sense of Sandy Alderson’s plan. Here is a transcript of our conversation.
Keefe: Sandy Alderson told Mike Francesa when he was hired that the Mets weren’t going to be in a rebuilding year and that you can’t rebuild in New York, but now it seems like that is exactly what the Mets are doing.
After the hiring of the new regime began, it seemed like Mets fans were beginning to get excited about the future of the team, but now that it’s been reported that the team has little money to spend, it seems like Mets fans are beginning to think nothing has changed.
Do you think Alderson and his new team have handled the winter meetings and the offseason with the right approach?
Coleman: I do think that they’re finding the landscape a little bit more different and more expensive than they thought it would be. I think even the most pessimistic Mets fan knew that this team didn’t have a lot of money to spend going in, so I think you’re seeing that right now. The two guys they have signed are backup players, but they need help in the bullpen and they also need starting pitching.
Some of the things that Alderson has said have kind of put the brakes on the high hopes that anybody had this year. One was when he said, “We probably have money for one pitcher, if that.” Really, this rotation needs a couple pitchers, so the other is probably going to come from the farm system, if indeed they do sign one.
The other thing that kind of raised a red flag was when he said, “There is no guarantee that the players available now are going to be better than the players that are available in January.” He may be right in that, and I’m not saying he’s wrong, but it doesn’t lead you to believe that they are going to be jumping in and signing people. He’s probably going to wait for the market to go down a little bit and see which guys are out there in January and which guys are still looking for jobs.
Keefe: The other day you told Boomer and Carton that you believe Chris Young would be a good fit for the Mets, and the team has been tied to Young and Jeff Francis. I have never been a big Jeff Francis fan, but I think that Chris Young would be a nice addition to the Mets, and someone that could actually help their rotation. Are you still taking Young over Francis if given the choice?
Coleman: Yeah, no question. I’m not a big Francis fan myself. I think he’s adequate.
If you listen to Sandy and if what he says is true that they have money for pretty much one pitcher, and both Young and Francis are going to be looking for incentive-laden contracts with a low base.
I have known Young for a while and when he’s healthy – I have no idea whether he is or not right now – but when he is, he can be a good pitcher. I don’t have any question about that. It’s just a matter of whether his shoulder is going to hold up, but he’s a guy that would fit this park very well with one exception. One thing you can’t do at Citi Field is walk opposing hitters because it’s such a big park that if you put balls in play, chances are that most of them are going to be caught if you have a decent defense. Chris has been one of those guys that has had high walk totals over his career, so that’s a no-no obviously, but he’s a flyball pitcher, which works well at Citi Field, and he’s also a guy that can handle New York very well. I think he wants to play here to be honest with you, so I would kind of be surprised if he isn’t here.
I’d like to see the Mets lock up Young pretty quickly and at least get one other guy that has major league experience in the rotation and then figure things out from there. Either go with a guy who might be desperate later on in January or go with a guy from the farm system for the other rotation spot.
Keefe: Before the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford, there were reports that they were meeting with the Mets to negotiate a deal that would bring Carlos Beltran to Boston, but the Mets would have had to eat about half of Beltran’s 2011 salary.
As a Yankees fan, given Beltran’s potential, I didn’t want to see him end up in Boston, but I guess it’s worse now that Crawford is there.
But the situation was interesting since the Red Sox are coming off a year in which they didn’t make the playoffs, like the Yankees after 2008 and the Red Sox after 2006 in that they are willing to do pretty much anything to get back to the postseason and win a World Series.
If the Red Sox were willing to make a move for Beltran before signing Crawford, isn’t that a sign that the Mets should hold on to him?
Coleman: Yes, I totally agree. I don’t know that if you trade him at any point that you’re going to get full value, but you definitely aren’t going to get full value right now. I think the smartest thing to do with him is hold on to him, bring him back and hope that he’s healthy. He knows he’s in the walk year of a contract and he knows that he has to put up good numbers if he wants to play elsewhere.
You hope he’s healthy in spring training and that he can play center field because that’s what he wants to do. If he puts up good numbers in the first half then you are sitting in a much better position come the trade deadline, if you wish to move him at that point. I just don’t know what you can get right now for him. I don’t even know if it’s 25 cents on the dollar at this point in time. I think everyone knows that he has arthritis in his knee and that’s probably not going to get any better as he gets older.
Beltran really hasn’t put up any numbers here over the last couple of years, even though he did hit well at the end of last year. He can be a dynamic player when he’s healthy and he’s out there most of the time, but I think he has to prove that, and I think it would be best for the Mets to let him do that. If they’re in a situation where they can trade him and have the other team pay most of the money he is owed then they may think about doing it.
To me, it makes much more sense to keep him and hope he does well and then move him at the trade deadline. But if a miracle happens and you happen to be in a race then you don’t have to deal him and you can wait until the end of the year. That’s the way I would approach it.
Keefe: I guess the real question is: Do you think Beltran will be a Met on Opening Day?
Coleman: I do. I think he’s going to be in spring training. I know he wants to stay in center field, but he’ll move if he has to. People think he will be stubborn about a possible move, but I don’t think he will be if he feels he can’t handle it. Angel Pagan is one of his best friends on the team, and even though he wants to play center field, he’s not going to stand in the way of somebody who’s better at the position right now, especially if it’s a friend. I think he just wants to play and put up numbers, and frankly, that’s the smartest thing for him to do. Whether it’s in center field or right field.
He would rather play center field, he’s very proud about that and he takes great pride in being a centerfielder, but if it’s starting to work against him, especially in the walk year of his contract, then it makes no sense. But I do think he will be here.
Keefe: The Mets left the winter meetings with two new additions in Ronny Paulino and D.J Carrasco. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was a start to begin filling the many holes on the team. What do you know about the two newest Mets and what roles will they likely play for the team in 2011?
Coleman: They need depth. They didn’t have great depth last year, so it’s a plus in that sense, and they needed a backup catcher. The Mets really do believe in Josh Thole. I think we’ll find out about him over time, and I think the jury is still out on him, but Thole is a guy that hits lefties very well, and being a lefty, he can also hit righties. Paulino can fill in against lefties. I think Paulino had over a .700 OPS against lefties last year. There have been questions about him in the past regarding his work ethic, and he still has eight games to go on a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. He says it was a diet pill, but who knows? They always claim it’s something else and it’s not the real thing. The bottom line is that he has a 50-game suspension and he is still going to be serving that at the beginning of the year, so this is not the perfect player. But they did need a backup catcher and they got him at a pretty cheap price.
As for Carrasco, I don’t know him that well, but he’s no spring chicken. He’s 33, but his numbers weren’t bad last year in 63 appearances.
The problem is that Kevin Towers took over in Arizona and whenever he takes over a situation, he always revamps his bullpen. He’s doing it in Arizona and he did it in San Diego. Carrasco was with Arizona and they non-tendered him, so I don’t know what that tells you. With Carrasco’s numbers, if Towers felt it was worthwhile keeping him, then I would think he would have taken a chance on him, which concerns me a little bit.
Keefe: The Mets got their backup catcher and a bullpen arm, but there is a still a long way to go before this team is finished being constructed. They still need starting pitching, bullpen help, and a second baseman and without a lot of money to spend, it’s going to be hard to plug all of those holes adequately. Which hole is the most crucial to plug?
Coleman: I think pitching overall, and I combine the two starters they are looking for and the bullpen.
My guess is that the Mets will only get half a season from Johan Santana, but he’s a competitor, so maybe he will be back before then. But you’re asking an awful lot of Mike Pelfrey and Jonathan Niese at young ages, and also asking R.A. Dickey to duplicate what he did in 2010.
I think that means you’re probably going to need a strong bullpen with guys who can pick up innings and guys who can shut things down at the end of games. I’d probably say getting the bullpen straightened out would be most important because it doesn’t look like the Mets are going to have those kind of lockdown guys in the rotation.
Keefe: It looks like the Mets are going to be going after a lot of low-risk, high-reward players between now and spring training to build their roster. Since the superstar free agents seem to be out of the question, which free agent would you most like to see the Mets sign?
Coleman: Well, that’s tough. Cliff Lee, but that’s not happening. I realize the situation the Mets are in and they kind of have to go after the Jeff Francis and Jeremy Bonderman and Brandon Webb types in guys that are hurt and trying to make it back and prove themselves again. I guess you can say I want to see the Mets get a guy like Brandon Webb although he is going to be way too expensive for them. But to me that’s a perfect guy that you would love to bring in. He’s a guy that’s won big on this level and I think will win big again. He’s had some problems and he’s fighting back from that, but I think whoever gets him is going to get a steal. If I had a wish list and could find somebody that could help this team, I’d say bring in Young and bring in Webb along with him, but obviously that’s not going to happen.
There really isn’t a position player in their budget or in their realm that would really make a difference at this point in time. There isn’t really anybody out there that I could say, “Hey, if you latch onto this guy you might be able to catch lightning in a bottle.” So, I guess if there’s one guy I’d say it’s Brandon Webb.
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