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Bring on the Hot Stove League for Mets (Conclusion)

Last week I continued my breakdown of the Mets, covering the rest of the infield, and discussed ways they might go about their 2010 and beyond team building plans. Today we cover the rest of the roster.

The Outfield

This picture is actually fairly settled with Carlos Beltran in center based on his contract alone.  While it is up in the air as to whether his injury will recur and eventually require surgery, he has come back from the disabled list and has at least been hitting and overall is making consistent contact striking out just 14|PERCENT| of the time while walking 13|PERCENT| and posting a .423 OBP.  One concern, however, is that coinciding with his improved contact making skills the last two seasons has been a decline in fly-balls approximately 8|PERCENT| since 2007. He has only turned 11|PERCENT| of his fly-balls into home runs and he will turn 33 early next year. It is up in the air as to whether or not he will return to the 20+, let alone the 25-30 home run plateau of home run hitting. The other concern, and this may be directly on doctor's orders at the moment, is that he has not attempted a stolen base since his return and it remains to be seen how much the Mets will allow him to steal in the future as his on-base skills are more valuable in the lineup than picking up the odd stolen base in terms of real baseball, to the contrary for us fantasy players.

Meanwhile in right field they seem committed to playing Jeff Francoeur, even if he is the anti-beltran in terms of plate discipline with his measly 4|PERCENT| walk rate and .308 OBP.  What he does have going for him are improved contact-making skills as seen in his three-year strikeout rate trends – going from 20|PERCENT| to 15|PERCENT| over that period. Interestingly this season his fly-ball rates are the highest they have been since his rookie season and are over 40|PERCENT| without significant alteration of his line-drive rates over his career, but still he has been more of a gaps double hitter with mid-teens home run power the last two seasons.  He first turns 26 next January and has more raw power than that in his tool chest so there is upside here. Still, he is a platoon player who does damage against lefties (.336) and is marginal (.258) against righties. It will be interesting to see if he can hold down the everyday gig for entire season with his various shortcomings.

That leaves left field with a cast of many including Gary Sheffield (still capable of being a very effective DH), Angel Pagan (a tweener who bats from the wrong-side of the plate), Danny Murphy (his good glove at first and awful one in left as well as struggles this season may have taken him out of contention from such a role), and Fernando Tatis (platoon player who is also best off not in the outfield). In other words, a free agent or a trade for someone who will bring some stability to the position is likely. At the very least, they will add a few more bats to the mix, throw some darts at the wall, and see if anything sticks.

It is also possible that they will give Fernando Martinez a try too after jump-starting his arbitration clock, but he is only 21 and struggled during his first exposure to the Majors, batting under .200, but made strikes in the minors showing better contact making skills and power skills simultaneously. A second trip to AAA to build on that improvement may what the Mets have in mind for him.

The Starting Staff

Of the Mets five starters only one stayed in the rotation all season long and it is far from a given that those who were injured will come back to full form next season. Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Maine, and Perez are all technically under contract next year though Maine is arbitration eligible again and while unlikely, it is possible that he could be a non-tendered free agent. The other three will return. The fifth starter spot will be up in the air probably between veteran free agents and Jon Niese, if healthy.

Johan Santana's injury in some ways is actually good news. While no surgery is good news and any surgery can lead to complications or staph infections, bone chips in of themselves are not a career altering or threatening injury once cleared up. There have been numerous examples of pitcher's undergoing this surgery and being able to come back to full form the following season and it is actually even a surgery that Santana has undergone once before in his career and then enjoyed his breakout campaign of 2004. That makes him a possible2010  bargain, depending on your league. In the leagues I play in, there might end up being too much optimism because of the type of surgery which could send his price back to $30 – in other words, I'd be long gone from that bidding based on my typical strategies and not typically spending that much on any pitcher, though I did love my $20 Roy Oswalt this season in Tout Wars (to go along with my $29 Berkman, $28 Manny Ramirez, and $28 Alfonso Soriano)..sigh!

John Maine's main issue is his health and considering he has battled shoulder trouble since 2008 and has not been fully healthy since, there is little reason to be overly optimistic or to expect to have to go beyond a $1 or $2 on draft day for that matter unless he has a lights-out spring training. His command and control have suffered from injuries including a balky hip which bothered him earlier in 2008 and his strikeout rates declined as his shoulder issues reared their ugly head, dropping to a 6.2 from a 7.8 from an 8.4. Not a good trend, but his history of skills is reason enough for a speculative bid in NL only leagues.

Oliver Perez is locked in to a multi-year deal and the Mets are stuck with him. The only good news is that his health issues are not elbow or shoulder related and the Mets at the very least shut him down rather than have him pitch through patellar tendintis. His erratic command coupled with coming off the injury, even though he is expected to make a full recovery,(4.9 BB/9 in the season that earned him the multi-year contract) also makes him nothing more than a speculative play. Between him and Maine I am not sure who I would rather bid on – perhaps Maine as he is less likely to pitch and cause a team pain.

2008 and 2009 for Pelfrey were virtually identical with marginal improvements in his strikeout rates and declines in his command. He throws hard averaging over 92 mph and throws strikes (3.3 BB/9), but his command within the zone is still lacking and it is not a good thing when batters make contact on roughly 87|PERCENT| of your pitches and 90|PERCENT| of the ones you throw for strikes. The real issue though is that Pelfrey really does not have a second pitch beyond his fastball which he throws 78|PERCENT| of the time.  He throws his slider under 14|PERCENT| of the time and his other two pitches under 5|PERCENT|.  What he does do well is get ground-balls doing so 50|PERCENT| of the time and allowing fly-balls just 30|PERCENT|. The problem, however, is that with someone getting so many groundballs, you need a good defense and with your above average shortstop missing for much of the season, sub-par second basemen, and sub-par first basemen until Murphy was moved there, a lot of hits get through. At this point Pelfrey is an inning's eater unless the light suddenly goes on. It would only take the addition of one other good offering to make him desirable again as starter or as a reliever. While his ERA is elevated by his 66|PERCENT| left on base rate and .318 BABIP, he is still nothing more than mediocre at best.

Jon Niese was one of the few Mets pitchers to show promise in 2009 continuing to show above average command in the minors  and translating it well to the Majors with a 3.2 BB/9. He was also able to generate ground-balls (48|PERCENT| of the time) and his average fastball, plus curve, and a decent cutter were a good enough combination to post a 6+ K/9. While the soon to be 23-year old is not a high-ceiling pitcher, there is enough skill there to be middle to back-end of the rotation inning eater and the Mets need to find someone beyond Pelfrey who can do that at the very least. It should be kept in mind that he did suffer a complete tear of his hamstring and will have to prove he too is healthy, but the Mets, unless they decide to do something dramatic, may open the season with him in the rotation.

Other options include Tim Redding who will be a free agent and given a 5+ ERA is likely not to return and have to sign a minor league deal with some team. A history of mediocre command, marginal strikeout skills, and fly-ball tendencies tend to add to that.  Quite frankly Nelson Figueroa would not be a bad option even if he is a crafty-righty (code for AAA roster filler). He may not crack 90 mph, but he mixes his pitches and throws strikes and fits into that "sneaky-fast" category. His ERA is actually the result of a .393 BABIP though it should also be noted that his near 8.0 K/9 is out of context with his career sub 6.0 K/9 mark. Fernando Nieve had a few interesting starts, but is still a ways away from when he was a top prospect for the Astros as he managed a 1:1 K/BB ratio and a 5.7 K/9. Pat Misch has some Jamie Moyer qualities averaging around 86 mph. He has some posted some interesting peripheral numbers in the minors but has not translated his skills to the Majors in limited opportunities and it is unlikely, unless major injuries force another chance, for him to pitch for any extended period of time in a starting role. Tobi Stoner pitched well ERA-wise at two minor league levels but did not crack a 6.0 K/9. His overall talent/skill set may push him to a swing-man/long-relief role.

The Mets at least do have an exciting pitcher at AA in Jenry Mejia who at 19 years of age is posting a 9.5 K/9 there and produced a 2.9 BB/9 in A+ ball earlier in the season. He is an interesting project, but one who will likely (hopefully) spend the entirety of 2010 in the minors.  The Mets also have Brad Holt who is possibly on a faster pace to the Majors as he will turn 23 next month, but who after completely dominating A+ ball, fell on his face in AA watching his K/9 dip from a 11+ to 7.0 and his BB/9 rise form a 2.7 to a 3.6, so one has to wonder if something may or may not be wrong beyond just transitioning to a new level of professional play.

The Bullpen

Francisco Rodriguez obviously will close and on the good side his velocity did bounce back somewhat to a 92.7 from a 91.9. He is a different pitcher than he was with the Angels, reducing how often he throws his breaking pitch by over 10|PERCENT| to 222|PERCENT| of the time while now throwing his changeup more often than that. The concerns though are a six-year decline in K/9 to a closer-worthy, but not quite as electric 9.5 K/9. His BB/9 has also risen each of the past four seasons and one has to hope his somewhat violent delivery is not starting to catch up with him.

J.J. Putz is a free agent and is unknown whether the Mets will be interested in bringing him back or if he will be interested in even returning even if they do offer him a dollar-figure he likes. He has surgery to remove bone chips plus has reported some fraying and a tear in his elbow both of which does not require surgery and are considered minor. Originally I was optimistic given that his injury was just bone chips and not Tommy John, but now one cannot be too sure. He posted a 1:1 K/BB ratio this season or a 5.8 in each category.

Fortunately the starting pitching experiment for Bobby Parnell is over, hopefully permanently this time. He has a good fastball and a decent slider, but no real great feel for changing speeds or throwing such a pitch for strikes.  He still averages over 94 mph and his place is in the pen, though whether or not he is anything beyond a middle reliever is up in there based on his near 5.0 BB/9. He has at least shown better in the past though he is unlikely to be average or above average with respect to his control.

Brian Stokes was someone I liked going into 2009 as someone who had learned a new pitch and how to pitch and had actually developed a second offering to go along with his plus mid-nineties fastball. While he still has the curve and hints at it occasionally, the command of his pitches has disappeared as his BB/9 jumped from a 2.2 to a 4.8 and with that his strikeout rates plummeted in kind back to a sub 6.0. At this point he is no longer a lock to stay with the Mets, let alone make the bullpen next spring unless he makes the necessary mental adjustments.

When will Pedro Feliciano's arm fall off? Two straight seasons of 80+ games and in 2007 he pitched in 78. Well when you are a situational lefty who actually only throws 50 or so innings, the concern is rather assuaged, at least for now. He has become even more effective with the addition of a cutter to his repertoire and increased how often he throws his changeup holding righties to a respectable .264.353 OBP when forced to face them. The key for him has been the great improvements to his BB/9 from a 4.4 to a 2.7, walking just 6 lefties the entire season while walking 11 righties. Felicano is one of the few Mets relievers who is a lock to return, but given his limited playing time, he is not someone who is typically targeted in even NL only leagues.

Sean Green's peripheral numbers are basically identical to 2008s. Heck he has had not much of a platoon split this season holding lefties to a .242 and righties to a .252 batting average. Of course though the skill set he showed last season had him end up with an ERA of 4.67. He is still striking out over 7 batters per nine and still getting ground balls over 60|PERCENT| of the time. It is quite possible that the Mets defense made him a victim of his own success in getting the type of contact he wanted, which happened to include 14 infield hits. That's over 11|PERCENT| of his total hits allowed, an alarming rate. He will likely return in the same role.

So, in summation, the Mets are a team with a number of holes and question marks, particularly in the rotation which they seem somewhat locked into. Given the inconsistencies and lack of development of pitcher's like Pelfrey it is difficult to predict them to make the playoffs next season. The questions extend into their lineup and go beyond questions of "who", but to what based on return to health and overall career trends. There is not one easy projection for 2010 in with perhaps Luis Castillo being the lone exception. Given all this, perhaps the Mets do need to be more aggressive this off-season. Going to battle with a patching job without deletions and some significant upgrades may be setting themselves up for yet another disappointing season.