The Mets made a series of roster moves Monday. They declined to offer major league contracts to catcher Ronny Paulino and outfielder Mike Baxter, and offered contracts to outfielder Andres Torres and pitchers Mike Pelfrey, Manny Acosta, and Ramon Ramirez. The Mets also claimed pitcher Jeremy Herner off waivers, and signed pitcher Garrett Olson and catcher Lucas May to minor league deals. The addition of Herner, along with the presumed additions of relievers Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco, will again fill the Mets’ 40-man roster; further free agent signings will require the Mets first to drop another player from their roster.
The Mets’ present 40-man roster is now loaded with marginal guys just-good enough to hang on to, if not quite good enough to field a competitive team with yet. Sandy Alderson should make an appearance on hoarders. Here is a run-down on how yesterday’s moves changed the Mets’ roster, and what moves they still need to make this offseason:
1. Ronny Paulino is not offered a contract: Paulino made a mess of his 2011 season. He was held up trying to enter the country, arrived late to spring training, and served a suspension for the first month of the season because of a previous performance enhancing drug violation. Then, when he finally played, he didn’t hit well and he didn’t catch well. Even ignoring the “Ronny Paulino zones out” post-hoc stories, other than being a live body in catcher’s gear, Paulino didn’t do much last year to convince the Mets to keep him around. The Mets decided the $1.5 million dollar cost of admission wasn’t worth another ride in 2012.
But with the dropping of Paulino, the Mets may now have the worst catching situation in baseball. Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas are the lone catchers on the 40-man roster: Thole reaches first base often enough to compensate for his poor defense and is a passable starter, while Nickeas is now the defacto backup. Nickeas is the world’s most genuine man; he’s also a career .237/.329/.342 hitter in the minor leagues. He does come with a 38% caught stealing rate and an excellent defensive reputation – but there’s a reason he’s not a major league catcher for someone already. If Nickeas can maintain his defense, work with the pitchers, and draw walks, he isn’t going to kill the Mets even if he hits .185. But be prepared, because he’s totally going to hit .185.
2. Mets sign Lucas May to a minor league contract: Behind Nickeas on the catching depth chart is Lucas May, a career minor leaguer signed on Monday, and then absolutely no one else. (Not really no one else, but next in line are the Double-A catchers with funny names.) The righthanded hitting May has good minor league numbers, but his stats are inflated from playing in the Pacific Coast League. He can probably hit a little bit, but his defensive numbers aren’t great. He’s a nice enough third-stringer.
I’m going to put it at 25% that Mays makes the Opening Day roster as the backup, 40% on Nickeas, and 35% that the Mets nab a veteran backup when a front officer bothers to examine the team’s catching depth — unless they don’t care enough to even pretend they’re competing in 2012, which is looking more and more possible. Ivan Rodriguez or Jason Varitek makes sense for a young team unconcerned with winning at the moment.
3. Mike Baxter is not offered a contract; Andres Torres is: I bet Baxter will be back on a minor league deal, but with or without Baxter, the Mets need outfield help. This list is the outfield depth chart as of right now:
1. Andres Torres – CF
2. Lucas Duda – LF
3. Jason Bay – LF
4. Kirk Nieuwenhuis – CF
5. Fernando Martinez – RF
6. Juan Lagares – LF
One injury and they’re bringing up Double-A players to Queens. They need to add outfield bodies, preferably righthanded hitting center field types. Unless we’re starting the “Josh Satin: Ace Backup Center Fielder” era.
But there’s another hitch. Check out at the Mets’ at-capacity-40-man roster. They’re going to have to add at least two more players — a backup center fielder and a backup shortstop – before the season starts, meaning that two other players are first going to be removed. D.J. Carrasco is the obvious first choice for the chopping block.
Now try to come up with reasons that Jason Bay isn’t the second choice. Because:
1. Bay isn’t going to be part of the next good Mets team
2. Lucas Duda is going to be moved to left field anyway
3. Kirk Nieuwenhuis and even Mike Baxter, should Baxter return on a minor league deal, may outperform Bay in 2012. Playing either in right allows Duda to shift to left
4. Endy Chavez, Cody Ross, Scott Hairston, and a handful of other free agent outfielders serve the Mets’ 2012 needs better than Bay
5. It’s painful watching him
Does the possibility of Bay rebounding outweigh the value of his roster spot? I’m not sure. Unless the Mets are willing to drop Daniel Herrera or a fringy prospect like Zach Lutz or Josh Stinson — guys who could be pieces of the next good Mets team, but probably won’t – from the roster, Bay is the guy. (They could also get creative by signing someone to an incentive-laden minor league deal, and then making room for that guy by placing Jenrry Mejia on the 60-DL once the season starts.) But the Mets are going to need wiggle room on the roster, and once you move past Carrasco, those choices get tough.
4. Mike Pelfrey is offered a contract for 2012: The Mets need Pelfrey’s innings – and, by the way, he pitched better than it seemed. Sort of. Pelfrey started poorly and ended poorly, but from May 5 through September 14, he ran a 3.96 ERA over 24 starts. He will be worth more than the Mets are paying him, and they’re just going to trade him at the deadline to a contender desperate for pitching anyway.
The Opening Day rotation should look something like:
R.A. Dickey – career ERA+ 99
Johan Santana – career ERA+ 142
Mike Pelfrey – career ERA+ 91
Jon Niese – career ERA+ 88
Dillon Gee – career ERA+ 93
Congratulations to Dillon Gee, now the Mets’ third-best starter!
5. The Mets claim Jeremy Herner off waivers, sign Garrett Olson to a minor league deal: A cheap way to build pitching depth, and along with Chris Schwinden, the Mets now have three guys at Triple-A who can step into the big league rotation. The two new guys are average minor league pitchers: Herner has a career 3.84 ERA in the minors and decent peripherals, Olson a 6.14 ERA in the majors but a 3.19 ERA in the minors. Worse case scenario, both of them pitch decently for the Bisons and don’t kill the Mets when the big league team needs a spot starter. Better case, one of them figures it out and one of these signings is a steal for the Mets. Best case, they cure cancer and fix the planet or the economy or something.
6. The Mets retain Manny Acosta and Ramon Ramirez: The Mets are set on bullpen depth. Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Manny Acosta, Bobby Parnell, and Tim Byrdak make up a decent base, with Pedro Beato, Josh Stinson and Daniel Herrera riding the Buffalo shuttle. (And Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia possibly joining by the end of the year.) This group won’t be great, but neither will the Mets, so it all works out okay.
7. The Mets don’t sign any shortstops: Help, help, help. Help. Help. Once you move past future-secret-star Ruben Tejada, you have to go to A-Ball to find the next true shortstop in the Mets’ organization. I don’t know, maybe you don’t have to go that far. Go ask Toby Hyde. Justin Turner, Jordany Valdespin, or apparently David Wright can serve in a pinch, but the Mets need to sign a warm body that can backup shortstop.
The Mets’ roster needs some work, and the front office has themselves in a squeeze. The Mets can probably get away with their pitching depth as is, but they still need an outfielder, a shortstop, and potentially another catcher, and that’s where the roster crunch is coming from. Nine roster spots are occupied by players unlikely to make big contributions to the 2012 Mets (Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia, Robert Carson, Armando Rodriguez, Reese Havens, Wilmer Flores, Jordany Valdespin, Juan Lagares, and Cesar Puello), and a handful more are taken by players unlikely to help until June. If you’re unsure which direction the front office is moving, 22 of the team’s 40 roster spots are taken by players born in 1986 or later. The team is collecting young players and dumping everyone else one by one. The short-term outlook is plenty of losses in 2012. The long-term outlook — Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis should all be playing and learning together every day by mid-June — looks much better.