7/15/11

On Former and Soon-To-Be Former Mets

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The Carlos Beltran situation is becoming very interesting. With 16 days before the trade deadline, he is emerging as the best position player on the market. Teams do not make John Smoltz-for-Doyle Alexander deals anymore, but signs are pointing to the possibility that the Mets could emerge with a pretty decent prospect in a trade, especially if they pay all of Beltran's salary for the rest of the season.

The Mets have to trade Beltran, of course, since they have seemingly no plans to sign him to a multi-year deal beyond this season and his contract says that they cannot even offer him arbitration in an attempt to wrangle two draft picks as compensation. Mets fans may be dreamers, but it appears that Sandy Alderson's front office harbors no illusions about the team's chances in 2011. An 81-81 record would be seen as a success this season - a playoff berth is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Alderson has done exactly what the Mets have needed him to do as the general manager. He released Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo before the season started, clearing the way for the successes of Dillon Gee, Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy. He traded Francisco Rodriguez earlier this week and saved the Mets $17.5 million in salary for 2012.

The Mets still have nearly $57.5 million wrapped up in Johan Santana, Jason Bay and David Wright next season, but only RA Dickey and DJ Carrasco are signed to guaranteed contracts in 2012. It certainly isn't ideal to have $63.6 million wrapped up in just five players, but it's also not unreasonable to think that the Mets can spend only another $30 to $35 million on 19 arbitration-eligible and cost-controlled players already in the system.

That leaves just Jose Reyes. The Mets will have a payroll of about $100 million in 2012 provided they do not sign or trade for any other big contracts. If the Mets cannot or will not offer Reyes $15 million in the first year of a multi-year deal to lock up their star shortstop, it would be a travesty.

With David Einhorn's takeover of the team looming in the background, there's no reason not to go the extra mile financially to sign Reyes. The money is there, whether the Wilpons have it or not - Alderson has to recognize this and convince ownership to open up their wallet to sign a player who simply cannot be replaced.

Meanwhile, Buster Olney is reporting that the Brewers have restructured Rodriguez's contract to turn the $17.5 million poison pill in 2012 from a player option into a mutual option. The onerous "games finished" clause is gone and Rodriguez's buyout would now cost Milwaukee $4 million instead of $3.5 million.

It's a deft manuever from Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who spent just $500,000 to give manager Ron Roenicke the freedom to use K-Rod in any role he wants over the next 2 1/2 months without fear that Milwaukee would be on the hook for a ridiculous contract in 2012. The Brewers didn't really need a closer in the first place - John Axford has been very good for most of the season and hasn't blown a save in nearly three months.

But all of a sudden, you have to wonder if the Mets might actually have been selling too low on K-Rod, who still has a closer's pedigree and postseason experience. (Not exactly the attributes that I value in a reliever, but then again I am not the general manager of a major-league team.) We won't know for sure until the identities of the players to be named later in the Rodriguez deal are revealed, but the consensus around baseball is that Milwaukee has a dearth of exciting prospects in its minor-league system.

Rodriguez certainly would have been seen as a more attractive trade option if the Mets had been able to strike a similar deal before putting him on the trade market. In fact, you have to think that both the Mets and Rodriguez might have been happier if the Mets were able to buy out the player option at what turned out to be a very reasonable rate, then traded Rodriguez to a team that viewed him as an answer to their closer situation.

Now, Axford will remain in the mix for closing games in Milwaukee and K-Rod will almost certainly spend some time pitching in an unfamiliar role. He's also in an unfamiliar city that he has no reason to get attached to, since he will almost certainly be on the move again in the off-season.

The Mets came away with two "prospects," but only the most starry-eyed dreamer believes that either player will ever make an impact in a Mets uniform. Had they been able to trade Rodriguez to a team desperate for the closer, without the new team having the fear of keeping him on the roster after the season, perhaps the Mets would've gotten a better return in the trade.

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