Mets Offseason: Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

In one fell swoop the Mets plunked down $66 million dollars in free agency this winter. For their purchase they acquired a serviceable player in Jason Bay. Purported to be a stellar clubhouse presence and right-handed power that will give David Wright some cover (he rarely saw a pitch in his wheelhouse in the second half and the strikeouts accumulated), but questions about his health. 

Years three and four of his pact could get ugly. (See Pedro Martinez, after year Uno of his four year $50 million dollar plus deal).

Thankfully, pitchers and catchers report next week and all the backseat general managers like me can extinguish the hot stove embers. Omar Minaya was directed to get a right-handed bat and he shopped at Bloomingdales when he had a budget better suited for J.C. Penney’s.

He bought one cashmere sweater when he could have purchased a closet full of warm weather gear. You know what happens when you wash fine garments too often? They fall apart and spring holes (like the Mets pitching staff?).

Wouldn’t it have been wiser to spread that dough around and add depth to a wafer thin pitching staff? Then add a frontline pitcher-friendly backstop, and a stopgap right handed slugging left-fielder? (Omar is proficient at collecting pitchers destined for the scrap heap – I’ll give him that. In fact he’s the Fred Sanford of MLB GM’s, a junk collector for the uninitiated).

Just examine the numbers if you think not:

There are exactly 1,458 innings a major league club has to account for over 162 games, not including extra innings. Or, ironically, almost exactly the career totals of Joel Pineiro has recorded in ten major league seasons (1,456.1) and Jason Marquis (1,485) in the same span. But, slightly less than Jon Garland’s 1,829.1 innings (also 10 seasons).

The trio inked deals totaling 36.3 million dollars. At least one player, Marquis, openly lobbied to return to his hometown (raised on Staten Island) and pitch for his beloved Mets. However, Minaya didn’t want to exceed his quota of one native New Yorker on the staff (Brooklyn’s Nelson Figueroa).

Would Mets fans have been a tad less queasy heading into spring training with Johan Santana leading a rotation that included Pineiro, Marquis, Garland, and Mike Pelfrey, or the present configuration of Big Pelf, John Maine, Ollie Perez, and a cornucopia of dreck competing for the number five slot?

I believe the answer is a resounding affirmative. The $64,000 dollar question is which pitcher, not named Santana, is going to devour innings for the Amazins? Last year’s leader, Pelfrey did not crack the 200 inning mark (184.1). Santana was second with 166 but an injured knee left him well shy of the 200 mark.

Take a guess who pitched the third most innings for the 2009 NY Mets? If you answered Livan Hernandez (135, but fired in August) go collect a dollar and a quarter from columnist Norman Chad. Fourth? Tim Redding, who missed the first part of the season with a bum shoulder but still managed 120.

You get my point here? The bullpen could be in tatters by Memorial Day. Penciled in as the number three and four starters, Maine and Perez, respectively, recorded 81.1 and 66 innings. Bobby Parnell tossed 88 innings but failed miserably as a starter and is slated for the bullpen or even Triple A. Figgy pitched a yeoman 70 innings but he is strictly a tweener (better than Triple A but not major league caliber) at best.

The rest of the candidates should be labeled suspects, not prospects.

While the Mets invested a big buck and four years in one player, they could’ve revamped the team with mostly one and two year deals, thus saving a bankroll for the coveted 2011 class.

If that meant going an extra few million for catcher Bengie Molina so be it. They could have inked Jermaine Dye for one year and a couple of million and had some mad money in reserve when teams like the Pirates and Royals conduct their annual fire sales.

If you are on a beer budget you don’t buy MOET and then go hungry at dinner.

Spending a big buck for one player who does not merit superstar status (management’s way of saying “we doled out the third highest free agent contract this off-season so go bug off”) is misappropriation of funds- irresponsible when the ship is springing holes from bow to stern, or is that David Stern to bow?

Do I think the Mets would’ve built a championship team with the aforementioned players? No, not when Philadelphia adds the best pitcher in the game to a stable of thumpers. Nevertheless, they would’ve been a more balanced competitive club, and more important, top heavy in starting pitchers

Hasn’t that been Minaya’s credo from day one: “You can’t have enough starters,” then why wasn’t the money spent on it? As camp looms on the horizon there is no wiggle room with this staff. Stock up on the Tylenol (the fans and the pitchers) or hope the new Japanese import performs better than the Toyota’s his country sells.

For the oft-injured Maine (and the goofy Perez) that is asking a lot. The Mets were banking on all the walking wounded returning and playing a full season. That delusional dream has already produced a sweaty nightmare with the Carlos Beltran saga.

If the Wilpons had not been penny wise and pound foolish their man Omar could’ve assembled a semi-respectable pitching staff. Instead the leftovers from the Buffalo Bison’s pitching staff will trample the shuttle to downstate La Guardia Airport, and sadly toe the rubber in the land of the $10 beer and $20 parking fees.