After a long 2009 season that resulted in our crosstown rivals taking the World Series from our division rivals, the hot stove season has officially begun. Opening Day of the 2010 season is exactly five months away and the Mets have plenty of work to do in those five months, to say the least.
The Yankees just won the World Series after they went hard after free agents CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. They filled two voids by signing those three players. By adding Sabathia and Burnett, they replaced the retired Mike Mussina and did not have to depend on the likes of Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner anymore. Teixeira replaced Jason Giambi at first base and instantly brought a fearsome bat to the hot corner that Giambi stopped being a few years ago.
Coincidentally, the Mets are now looking for a few starting pitchers and a first baseman. Of course, they might also be shopping for a left fielder as well. Unfortunately, this year the free agent class isn’t as deep in the starting pitching and first base department as it was last year when the Steinbrenners maxed out their credit cards in order to buy their championship.
There is no under-30 superstar first baseman to be had, a la Mark Teixeira. The best available players at the position include Adam LaRoche and Hank Blalock, neither of which can produce the across the board numbers Teixeira did even if they played half of their games in a Little League field as opposed to Citi Field.
Recently, I suggested that the Mets should go hard after Adrian Gonzalez if the Padres decide to trade him. However, with the emergence of Ike Davis, I’m not so sure about Gonzalez anymore. Sure, Gonzalez would give the Mets the power they got when they traded for Carlos Delgado in 2006 at a much younger age than Delgado was, but Davis would keep the payroll lower for a longer period of time, enabling the Mets to go after pricier free agents in the future, especially starting pitchers. If the Mets don’t feel that Davis will be ready for the majors until 2011, then they’d be better off signing a stopgap first baseman to a one-year deal, like a Russell Branyan. LaRoche and Blalock would be good one-year signings, but it is unlikely either player would accept a one-year deal at this stage of their careers, as they’re both younger than Branyan.
As far as starting pitchers go, I think I’ve made it clear in past blogs that I want John Lackey on the Mets. He is a fierce competitor who would complement Johan Santana perfectly. Imagine a lefty-righty combo of Santana and Lackey. They would be firing up the team on and off the field with their win-at-all-costs attitude and determination. Obviously, the 2009 Mets lacked good health. But one other thing they lacked was the fire good teams need to succeed. Lackey would add a few logs to that fire.
There has been talk around the hot stove that Lackey would prefer pitching in his home state of Texas. Isn’t that the same talk that was revolving around CC Sabathia last year? Wasn’t he supposed to go to a California team so he could be back home? Instead, he left Milwaukee and went in the opposite direction and found himself a World Series ring under his pillow. Why can’t the Mets do the same for Lackey?
Having Santana and Lackey ahead of John Maine and Mike Pelfrey (I’m intentionally leaving Oliver Perez out of the mix) would allay fears of who the Mets can count on after every fifth day that Santana trots out to the mound. With only Santana, the Mets would have to rely on Oliver Perez too much. Even Maine and Pelfrey are question marks for the 2010 season, with Maine’s injury concerns and Pelfrey’s regression to his pre-2008 form. These question marks might require the Mets to look for another starting pitcher even if they do sign Lackey.
What about left field? I personally love Angel Pagan, but I know he might be best suited as a fourth outfielder. His bat is without question his strength, but his fundamentals still need a little work. If he hadn’t confused aggressive baserunning with reckless baserunning so much in 2009, perhaps a Pagan/Beltran/Francoeur outfield would have been the ideal situation for the Mets. However, because he did not prove that he can be a heady ballpayer just yet, the Mets might need a different player to patrol left field.
Ideally, the Mets would need to have a power hitter at first base so that the need for power in left field would not be as great. Outfielders, especially in spacious Citi Field, need more speed than a first baseman requires. Therefore, if the power at first is addressed quickly, then the Mets can turn their attention to someone like Carl Crawford. There’s no question he has the speed, as he’s an annual threat to win the stolen base title. His defense is another facet of his game that is above average. I would trust him chasing after fly balls more than I would trust Angel Pagan. If the Rays feel that they cannot afford to keep Crawford, then the Mets should do what it takes to bring him to Citi Field.
Some of the moves I have suggested are free agent acquisitions while some would involve trades. It’s much easier for me to write about these moves than it is to actually make them. That’s where Omar Minaya has to come in. He is very much in danger of losing his job if the Mets can’t compete in 2010. He has to make this hot stove season burn brightly. I’m sure he noticed what the Yankees did last year during the winter and look what it did for them this season. If the Wilpons want to make sure there aren’t as many empty seats at Citi Field as there were during the last month of 2009, they have to supply Omar with the funds to put together the best possible team he can. Otherwise, the hot stove will only serve to burn the fans instead of lighting the way to the promised land.