Jose Reyes of the New York Mets looks on from the dugout during the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field on September 28, 2011 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Reds 3-0. Reyes is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Reyes also ended the game with a narrow lead for the National League batting title. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
What the Mets do during the offseason hinges largely on whether or not they are able to retain free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes.
The World Series is one game -- or two -- away from completion, which means it's time to think about the York Mets' offseason. Dealing with a number of injuries to critical players, the Amazin's went 77-85. Overall, it was the kind of year many expected, despite the optimists who thought that something would click and they would play beyond expectations.
The good thing for the Mets is that they should enter the 2012 season with a healthy team; the bad thing is that they're dealing with unheard of (in New York, at least) payroll restrictions, meaning they will not be targeting top-tier free agents, besides Jose Reyes -- and even that'll be on their terms.
General manager Sandy Alderson will have a $100 to $110 million payroll this offseason. Sounds pretty bad, right? If you look at it, the two World Series teams, the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals are not operating at budgets that exceed those terms. What puts the Mets behind the eight ball is that while their farm system is better (still not great), their best prospects are not quite ready to make an impact early on next season. About half of their payroll -- $55 million -- is slated for Johan Santana, Jason Bay and David Wright.
Alderson and his staff have their work cut out for themselves this offseason. And what the Mets can do financially will be predicated on whether they re-sign the dynamic, but injury-prone Reyes. Alderson will again be looking to hit on low-cost, moderate-upside guys like Chris Capuano (who could be brought back).
Let's take a look at five areas that could be on the Mets' wish list this offseason:
1) Bullpen: This is an area that we can all expect some major changes/additions to. The bullpen was exposed this season because the starters rarely went deep into games, but nonetheless it was an extreme weak point. The No. 1 question is who will be the closer? Bobby Parnell showed flashes, but was inconsistent; he had six saves and six blown saves, yet still possesses the best stuff of anyone in the 'pen. In relief, New York sported an unimpressive 4.33 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. Their best reliever was Taylor Buchholz, who had his season cut short after 26 innings because of depression. Francisco Rodriguez -- traded to Milwaukee midseason -- was their second-best, and even Manny Acosta was better than expected, finishing with a 3.45 ERA in 47 innings. This will be an area will Alderson will prioritize, yet he will not be pigeon-holed into taking the ill-fated long-term deal.
2) Outfield/Centerfield: There were rumblings at the end of the season that the Mets would not bring back Angel Pagan -- either trading him or non-tendering him -- as they weren't happy with his defense in center and his decline in production. With Bay a remnant of himself, the Mets will have to look for outfield help. An outside shot is that a chance is given to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum but is currently the best (and most major league-ready) outfield prospect the Mets have.
3) Starting pitching: Assuming Santana returns to adequate form, the Mets have R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, and Dillon Gee signed into next year. Will Alderson retain Pelfrey, and does he keep Capuano in the fold? I say there's a good chance for both. Chris Schwinden will most likely be given a shot in the rotation (or bullpen) after a solid, but unspectacular year in Triple-A (and a 4.71 ERA in four starts in the big leagues). The problem the Mets face is that they really have a bunch of similar bottom-tier starters on their staff, with not a lot of upside. I still expect Alderson to bring in a few more bodies to compete, and possibly move one (like Capuano) or two to the bullpen.
4) Catcher: Ronny Paulino is arbitration-eligible, Josh Thole is OK defensively and the most boring player offensively. At this point, Thole is essentially a replacement-level player, and career minor leaguer Mike Nickeas offers even less than Thole. The Mets could go cheap with Thole and Nickeas ... It's not a huge sinkhole if the Mets can keep Reyes, but it becomes a more glaring weakness if Reyes leaves.
5) Second base/shortstop: This is more of an area of question based on Reyes' decision ... but, if Reyes stays, the second-base starter isn't nearly as important. Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy would appear to be the frontrunners there, but it seems as if Murphy is out of place at any position he plays, thus he might have to settle for a super-utility role. If Reyes leaves town, Tejada would move to shortstop, and the starter at second would be more up in the air. The issue is that between Tejada at short and either Justin Turner (or even Josh Satin), there are two "utility" players in the every day lineup. Does the oft-injured Reese Havens get a long look in the Spring if Reyes is gone?
When the 2011-12 offseason is finished, I think it will be an active one for the Mets, but not one filled with a lot of "exciting" signings; that is unless Reyes ends up staying. What Reyes ends up doing will have a lot of sway as to what Alderson can patch up heading into next season.