By the time you’re reading this article the salary arbitration cases for the Mets will be known. One has already been settled with Bobby Parnell renewing his $3.7 million salary after essentially taking the 2014 season off due to injury. There are five others, however, eligible to file for arbitration: Lucas Duda, Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia, Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada. It’s interesting to note that Gee and Murphy have been discussed extensively as trade possibilities, Tejada as a non-tender candidate (a tactical mistake that’s going to cost them dearly), and Mejia as Skipper Collins’ second choice as closer. About the only one who has not fallen out of favor one way or another is Lucas Duda who gave the Mets one of their few offensive bright spots during 2014 when he slugged 30 home runs and drove in 92 runs as he inherited first base once Ike Davis was banished to drown his sorrows in Iron City beer.
The Mets have traditionally tried to settle their cases prior to going to the arbiter to chance perhaps an even more onerous payday for the player in question, but let’s take a look at each of these five candidates and what their future for the team might be.
The big man was earning a modest $1.85 million in 2014 and proved to be quite a bargain. Ike Davis’ salary alone was probably one reason they decided to roll the dice on Duda. For once they got lucky. His season exceeded expectations in terms of power and RBIs. He was quite selective at the plate. He held his own at 1B (much better than he fared as an outfielder). There is most definitely room to improve against left handed pitching (and with Michael Cuddyer and John Mayberry in the fold, the platoon-happy manager must be doing cartwheels). MLBtraderumors has him slated for a bump to just $4.3 million which is considerable yet still a relative bargain for the Mets if he can approximate the same production during 2014.
It’s always interesting to read reports from outside of the New York market to get a feel for how the Mets players are perceived elsewhere. The consensus on Gee is that he’s a back-of-the-rotation starter with a good ground ball success rate which suggests he might flourish in home havens like Colorado, Philadelphia, Arizona or Texas. If you look at his numbers they’re not spectacular – 3.91 ERA for his career, a winning record on a bad team, and a 2.26:1 strikeout to walk ratio. However, that’s far better than most 4/5 starters in the league and with a projected salary of $5.1 million he’s a relative bargain. It should not be difficult to find a taker, but as we’ve seen before trader Sandy is adamant about receiving back what he perceives as good value. This patience/inertia results in the team making very few personnel moves to improve the club. This year the team has not only 6 major league experienced starting pitchers, but it also has Rafael Montero, Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz in the wings, so trading away one of the starters is not a terribly risky thing to do. The general consensus is that any of the three youngsters could provide at least what Gee does and at minimum wage, so it’s pretty much a fait accompli that he will be gone before the season begins.
When 2014 began despite not having Matt Harvey the Mets were once again flush with starting pitchers and forced to banish some of them to the bullpen, including Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jenrry Mejia. After being shuttled back and forth under Jerry Manuel, the bullpen was not necessarily new to Mejia, but closing games was. It was after the failures of Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth that Mejia got his chance as a fireman despite having had poor results as a starter. Much to everyone’s surprise he flourished in that new role, saving 28 games – 12th best in the league – and more than Bobby Parnell ever did in a season. He showed a ton of personality and emotion out on the mound when he nailed down a save. His record as a closer was pretty impressive – just 3 blown saves and a 2.78 ERA from May 15th through the end of the season when he was the closer. He also struck out better than a batter per inning. He did give up too many walks and was a little too hittable, but those results were far better than anyone could have imagined. MLBtraderumors has him moving from his 2014 salary of $509,000 to $3.1 million. With no guarantees when Bobby Parnell will be ready it would seem the Mets pretty much need to pay the man whatever it takes to secure his services for at least another half year until either he or Parnell could be traded in July.
The Mets representative on the 2014 All Star squad had a typical Murphy year in which he provided a .289 average to go along with 37 doubles, 9 HRs, 57 RBIs and 13 SBs. His salary for last season was an appropriate $5.7 million but MLBtraderumors has him slated to jump to $8.3 million which seems a bit high given his 2.0 WAR production. It’s highly unlikely that the Mets would make him a qualifying offer next year to gain back the draft pick they lost in the ill-advised Michael Cuddyer deal because he might just take it and nearly double his projected 2015 salary. Consequently dealing Murphy before year’s end is almost mandatory. The rub, of course, is how well Matt Reynolds, Dilson Herrera and Wilmer Flores perform as it would require someone to replace him directly at 2B or shifting Flores there and replacing him at SS. For all of the people clamoring to replace Wilmer Flores at SS to me it’s really a call for keeping his bat in the lineup at 2B and finding someone else with better defensive skills (and saving the $8.3 million Murphy is going to earn).
Terry Collins’ man-crush from Panama has devolved into a barely adequate utility infielder. He has no power, no speed and over the past two seasons has averaged just .223 at the plate. He can draw a walk and he’s adequate in the field but according to MLBtraderumors he’s slated to earn a jump to $1.7 million in salary for the upcoming season. Personally I would rather see them throw that same salary offer at Everth Cabrera (warts and all) who could at least be an effective pinch runner. If not him, then use in-house options like Wilfredo Tovar who is already on the 40-man roster or even Matt Reynolds. I can’t imagine they would hit any worse than Tejada does. Still, $1.7 million is not going to break even the Wilpons’ bank account, though they did find a capable backup in Ronny Cedeño a few years back for just $1.2 million, so I’m still puzzled why they bothered tendering a contract to the young but unimpressive Tejada.