The Mets acquired an outfielder and three relievers, and traded their incumbent center fielder, over a two hour span last night in a transparent attempt to crash Twitter. First, the Mets signed righthanded setup man Jon Rauch to a one-year, $3.5 million dollar deal. Then they acquired righthanded middle reliever Ramon Ramirez and outfielder Andres Torres from the San Francisco Giants for Angel Pagan. Minutes later, they signed righthanded closer Frank Francisco to a two-year, $12 million dollar deal.
The Mets took on about $9.5 million in net salary for next season in the three moves — that is, just the salaries of Rauch and Francisco — as their trade with the Giants is a wash in 2012 salaries. Ramirez will likely make $2 million dollars in arbitration and can be a free agent after the 2012 season, while Torres will likely make $3 million in arbitration and is a free agent after the 2013 season — $5 million in total. Pagan will likely make $5 million through arbitration and is a free agent after the 2012 season. Essentially, the Mets swapped center fielders with the Giants, gained a year of team control at center field, and acquired a sneaky-good reliever along the way. Adding in Rauch and Francisco’s deals, and assuming arbitration for Mike Pelfrey, the Mets now have a 2012 payroll of $90 million dollars.
The Mets are a better team today than they were yesterday. But not much better.
The Mets brought in three reliever to fix their biggest need, the bullpen. Last season the Mets’ bullpen ranked 15th out of the 16 National League teams in ERA, 12th in FIP, 12th in blown saves, and 11th in losses. One problem was the inability to induce a swing-and-miss when needed: Mets relievers were 14th in strikeout percentage, at 19.9%, and dead-last at stranding runners on base. They were bad in just about every kind of way.
Rauch, Francisco, and Ramirez should help rectify the first problem, the high ERA and blown leads, though not necessarily the second underlying issue, limiting contact. Neither Rauch nor Ramirez is a strikeout pitcher: Rauch has struck out 19.1% of the batter he’s faced over his career, Ramirez 20.3%, similar to the Mets overall 19.9% rate last year. Rauch’s strength is his control, while Ramirez is skilled at avoiding solid contract. Francisco, who will likely serve as closer, is a strikeout pitcher with a 25.9% strikeout rate for his career. (Prediction: Francisco will be okay, but he’ll make us crazy and we’re going to hate him.) But the Mets’ bullpen may fail to miss more bats this season than last.
Still, the trio of relievers should improve the Mets’ bullpen ERA. Last season, Francisco, Rauch and Ramirez combined for 171 innings pitched and 73 runs allowed:
Frank Francisco: 50.2 innings, 21 runs
Jon Rauch: 52 innings, 28 runs
Ramon Ramirez: 68.2 innings, 24 runs
171 innings, 73 runs
If we assume Bobby Parnell, Tim Byrdak, Manny Acosta and Pedro Beato return and serve as the Mets other four relievers, the three new relievers should replace the innings of these pitchers:
Francisco Rodriguez: 42.2 innings, 15 runs
Jason Isringhausen: 46.2 innings, 23 runs
D.J. Carrasco: 49.1 innings, 35 runs
Ryota Igarashi: 38.2 innings, 20 runs
177.1 innings, 93 runs
That represents an improvement of 20 runs, if we assume Parnell, Byrdak, Acosta and Beato pitch the same in 2012 as they did in 2011. Those 20 runs bring the Mets’ bullpen ERA down from 4.33 to 3.95 . . . still poor enough to rank 15th in the 2011 National League. The Mets will need to hope for improvements from all their relievers if they want an average bullpen in 2012. This isn’t an unreasonable expectation, as Parnell and Beato are young, learning, and should avoid being overworked with the additions; Rauch and Francisco may see their ERAs drop moving out of the American League. But the Mets’ bullpen will need a few of those things to happen to move closer to being decent, rather than just passable.
Basically, last season’s bullpen was so awful, adding three decent relievers means that the Mets now have three decent relievers and a lefty specialist in Byrdak.
Although the changes in the bullpen should equate to about a two-win swing in the standings, the Torres-for-Pagan swap in center field is harder to pin. Andres Torres is a worse hitter than Angel Pagan. Torres strikes out far more, hits for a lower average, and doesn’t get on-base at the same rate. He has a bit more patience and power, hitting 16 home runs in 2010, but Pagan’s ability to make contact outweighs those advantages, and he is three years younger. Pagan is a better hitter, though by a small gap. However you cut it, it’s an offensive downgrade for the Mets.
The Mets appear to be betting that Torres will be the superior center fielder. Comparing the Torres and Pagen by defensive metrics, first as outfielders (and keep in mind that Pagan has about 3900 defensive innings to Torres’ 2900):
Metric Torres Pagan
UZR +40.8 +12.7
DRS +21 +35
TZ +22 +24
And then as center fielders:
Metric Torres Pagan
UZR +19.1 -2.7
DRS +5 +16
TZ +10 +11
By the numbers, this is close a wash, perhaps with a slight advantage to Torres, especially in center field. Pagan’s case comes down to Defensive Runs Saved, while Torres has an advantage everywhere else. This may or may not make up for Pagan’s advantage as a hitter; it’s close.
It’s safer to call Angel Pagan the better player, if only because of his relative youth. This is a downgrade for the Mets in a vacuum — but trades are never made in a vacuum. (Though if you are in a vacuum, send for help.) If the Mets truly had issues with Pagan’s attitude, if he put too much pressure on himself attempting to repeat 2010, and if those issues affected his fielding and hitting . . . then the odds are that Pagan wasn’t going to bounce back with the Mets next year in the way he might bounce back elsewhere. He is worth more to another team than he was to the Mets. It’s possible that the Mets got the worse outfielder in the trade, but improved themselves nonetheless.
Of course, the trade wasn’t Torres for Pagan straight up; Ramon Ramirez is coming to New York as well, an excellent middle reliever, and Torres is under team control for an extra season. I’m tentatively marking this as a win for both teams. (Unless you believe this deal and the Carlos Beltran/Zach Wheeler deal are Sandy Alderson slowly setting up Brian Sabean for an ultimate fleecing at some point. Which I do.)
The Mets improved their bullpen and defense yesterday, two of their weakest areas last season. I estimate that — by adding Torres, Ramirez, Rauch and Francisco, and subtracting Pagan — they added about two net wins, at the cost of around $9.5 million dollars. With these moves, the Mets current roster looks like an 76-to-81 win team at the cost of about $90 million dollars in salary. There’s the possibility of more wins, if the talented veterans (David Wright, Johan Santana and Jason Bay) have their health, if the young pitchers (Jon Niese and Dillon Gee) improve, and if the young hitters are healthy and productive (Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda and Ruben Tejada). This could be an okay team.
Or none of those things could happen, and the Mets could lose 120 games. They’re certainly not going to be the favorite. Although by adding four new players in the course of two hours, the conversation has shifted away from players who will not be on the 2012 Mets, and back to those who will.