By Ed Coleman
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It's been just over a week since free agency commenced in baseball, and already Met fans are either depressed or panic stricken. Was that Jose Reyes performing "No Hay Amigo" at a South Beach nightclub in Miami last night? Was that Jose sliding down the chute with Bernie Brewer at Miller Park? Why haven't the Mets made an offer?
Look, I don't know if there's any club that will offer Reyes a 6 or 7-year deal, but the Mets will not, nor should they. They are waiting for the market to form for a difficult player to judge - extremely talented, dynamic game-changer, yet physically brittle at times. The Mets know what they are willing to pay for Reyes, and if I had to speculate it's within the parameters of 4 years plus an option in the $80-90 million range.
Everyone points to the Mets ownership's financial woes as the reason the front office is taking this tack, but it has as much to do with the $55-57 million that is due to just 3 players - Johan Santana, Jason Bay and David Wright - in 2012, which is already half the budget projected for next season. Thus the wait-and-see, cat-and-mouse approach.
What the Mets have to concentrate on is improving their pitching, especially the bullpen, which includes targeting a reasonably priced closer for 2012. They also have to be cognizant of the tender deadline, which comes after the Winter Meetings on December 12, to make decisions on Mike Pelfrey and Angel Pagan in particular.
As for closers, Heath Bell and Ryan Madson will not be toiling at CitiField, nor will Jose Valverde or Kyle Farnsworth who had their options picked up, and the Mets will see plenty of Jonathan Papelbon, unfortunately in a Phillies uniform. But there is value out there with people who have done it well in the past.
There's Joe Nathan, a 37-year old New York area guy who's 2 years removed from Tommy John surgery and has already stated that the Mets are on his radar, as well as 35-year old Brad Lidge. Both guys need to re-establish themselves after various arm ailments, both are quality character persons who could aid in the maturing of a Bobby Parnell, and both had hefty club options ($12 1/2 million) for 2012.
On the younger side, there's Matt Capps and Jonathan Broxton, both 28. As with Capps, Broxton - who notched 36 saves in 2009 - has been and would be willing to be an 8th inning man as well. Toronto and at least 6 other teams have inquired about Broxton, but the Mets have yet to do so. And very much like the market for Reyes, the closer market will likely take some time to sort out and form.
The tender deadline presents arbitration-eligible players and what to do with Pelfrey and Pagan in particular. Pelfrey will command a salary in the $5 1/2 to 6 million range, while Pagan will probably settle in the $4.7 or 4.8 range. For a pitcher whose bread-and-butter pitch is his sinker, Pelfrey gave up way too many home runs (21) last year and how the new outfield dimensions at CitiField will affect him or any of the other pitchers is anybody's guess.
But Chris Capuano has likely priced himself out of the Mets' budget for next season, and although there's great hope that Johan Santana will return to form, there's still a lot of fingers crossed behind backs. Pelfrey is 27 and durable, and he did win 15 games in 2010 with a strained right rotator cuff. He has averaged 196 innings per season since 2008, and 200 inning pitchers are hard to discard. The Mets need some certainty while the Wheelers and Harveys go through their maturation process.
Pagan is definitely not a favorite of the front office, and he ticked off numerous teammates this season with his absences from supposed injuries. That's before mentioning his sub-par play in general in centerfield, along with his scattershot throwing arm. But the CF market is not great. Grady Sizemore has suffered one injury after another - Coco Crisp would rather stay put on the West Coast - Rick Ankiel and Cody Ross seem better suited to be part-time or platoon players - Nate McLouth has disappointed since being traded by the Pirates to Atlanta in 2009.
Pagan did have a lot of "at-em" balls last season as he produced the highest line-drive rate of his career, and his defense should improve with the new tighter dimensions at CitiField.
It's all stuff that the Mets will have to process as they search to finalize a roster for 2012. And it will likely take some time as they let the market come to them.
Notes on the way out:
-- Defensive outfielder Jason Pridie and utilityman Nick Evans were dropped off the 40-man roster. They are expected to clear waivers, and both have the right to declare free agency. The Mets now have 32 players on the 40.
-- I thought the versatile Willie Bloomquist might be a good bench addition for the Mets, but he re-signed with the Diamondbacks for 2 years at $3.8 million, probably a little too rich for the Mets.
-- For the first time since 1996, the Mets and Yankees will play each other during spring training in Florida. The two teams will play in Port St. Lucie on April 3, then meet the next day at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa before the Mets head to New York to open the season against the Atlanta Braves.
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