At An Organizational Crossroad, How Do The Mets Improve For 2010?

As we approach the final four games of the 2009 regular season, any hope of spinning a positive ending to an otherwise dreadful season is pretty much lost.

Despite the writing being on the wall since mid-Summer that the Mets would not be involved in post season play for the third straight year, Mets fans clung to the hope that they would at least get a glimpse of the team’s future.

However, like the stars they were replacing the young guns, themselves began to drop off of the radar due to injuries.

By the end of September, the only two bright spots on the team were getting a  sneak peek at the potential future catcher, Josh Thole, and the privilege of watching Jeff Francoeur make strides at becoming the star player he once was in Atlanta.

Before the Mets begin wheeling and dealing this off-season, a meeting must take place between the Wilpons, Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel.

On paper the team will have three glaring holes at catcher, first base and left field. Those needs alone will be hard to fill, especially if the estimate that the team will only have between $15 to $25 million to spend on free agents.

On top of the three vacant positions already mentioned it is safe to assume that the team will also be in the market for another starting pitcher and an arm or two for the bullpen.

From there, a determination must be made on whether this team can be competitive next year given the limited financial resources or is it time to rebuild. Personally, now is the worst time to attempt to deal any members of the core, especially David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran.

For starters, all three are coming off down years in terms of production. Also, each spent at least 15 days on the disabled list. Trading them now would be selling very low.

Assuming the team chooses to go for it in 2010 they will need to be creative in filling all of their voids.

The key for Omar this off-season will be to not get caught up in buying high on players. This applies directly to the free agent catcher’s market where every available catcher is at least over the age of 32.

This is a position that the Mets should not commit more than a year or two to, especially with Thole and Santos waiting in the wings.

Moving on to the first basemen and outfielder’s market, outside of the superstars (Matt Holliday and Jason Bay) there is nobody to build a team around. Thus, the Mets must take a similar approach and only offer players one year incentive-laden deals and possibly include some sort of option for 2011 that vests when the player reaches certain milestones.

Unfortunately, guys like Bobby Abreu and Russell Branyan, who accepted one year deals last year, will be commanding more years and a bigger chunk of change after the solid years they put up in 2009.

Another intriguing position that the Mets will have to make a decision on is second base. If they are comfortable that this year was not an aberration then they should be set, otherwise they’ll have to look for a replacement. For more information on the market check out my colleague Dave Landon’s superb article, in which he looks at who the Mets should and shouldn’t pursue at second base.

Lastly, the Mets have to entertain the idea of bringing in a starting pitcher, preferably a number two starter, as their entire projected 2010 staff has a question mark over it. This is an area where the Mets really need to come up big in my opinion.

They already have numerous league average pitcher. They need a stud in the rotation, who can take some of the pressure off of Johan Santana. They need a pitcher like John Lackey or Brandon Webb to help anchor the rotation.

The dilemma is that signing a pitcher of this caliber would almost surely deplete most, if not all of the financial resources for 2010, if the monetary estimates are indeed correct.

Would adding solely a number two starter be enough to cure the Mets woes? The answer is probably not, but it certainly would make them more of a threat in the National League.

Beyond additions to the team there are a few potential contract extensions that could take place over the next three months. One of them involves Jeff Francoeur, who is rumored to have been offered a three-year deal.

This is a tough call. On one hand Francoeur has done an admirable job during his short time with the Mets and really has a passion for the game. Yet, this is the same player, who hit .239 in 2008 and .250 in the first half of 2009.

It would best suit the Mets to give him another year in the Big Apple to ensure that he doesn’t regress. If he performs well next season then it would make sense to approach him with a two to three year deal.

Another player rumored to be getting a contract extension is Pedro Feliciano. Feliciano has been a rock in the Mets bullpen ever since he returned to the team in 2006. 2010 will be Feliciano’s final arbitration year, after which he will hit the free agent market.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Mets to offer Pedro a two year deal to cover his last arbitration year, as well as one year of free agency. Keep in mind that if such a deal were made, Pedro would be 35 years of age by the contract’s end. This is around the time that some player’s arms begin to wear down. This is definitely a concern, especially for a guy who has appeared in 86 games in back-to-back seasons.

Thus, if Feliciano were willing to go with a two year deal then it would behoove of the Mets to lock up one of the game’s best middle relievers.

With the Mets’ off-season beginning in only five days, it should be interesting to see how they construct their team for 2010.