Here's the thing about the New York Mets: For all of the focus on their bullpen, which was definitely a reason for their late-season collapses in 2007 and 2008, that is both the most easily explained and the most reparable problem that they have. In both years the late-season loss of their best reliever -- their only full-inning strikeout guy -- created a domino effect that could not be patched internally. Had
So while there's a perception that the Mets have to sign two or three of the top free-agent relievers this winter, the reality is that they, like most teams, don't have to make massive investments in the bullpen to get production. They should focus their attention and resources on other areas of the team that need improvement, putting better players on the field and in the rotation to support one of the top four-man roster cores you're ever going to find, four Hall of Fame talents in their prime or late prime. That quartet makes up what is clearly a championship-caliber core, but if the other 21 spots aren't brought up to snuff, the Mets will resemble nothing more than the 1996-2000 Mariners, a team that made a couple of post-season appearances with a comparable core of talent, but one that was largely a disappointment.
In the absence of Wagner, the Mets' pen was inadequate for its lack of a pitcher who could go complete innings, even multiple innings, and be effective. It wasn't that the Mets lost their capital-C closer; it was that they lost their only reliever who was above-average. With
So while the Mets do not need to sign all the big-name relievers, signing one isn't a bad idea. As the market turns, the price on
All of the bullpen fixes in the world won't help if they don't upgrade the outfield corners, second base and catcher as a unit. For the former, there are a whole mess of guys out there. The only one of the bunch who can play right field -- although he did have a lousy defensive year -- is
You can't trade
The Mets' bullpen would have looked a lot better had their rotation worked deeper into games. Santana and
My sense is that the Mets should spend money in this market if it will get them Sabathia or Lowe. Again, this is a team that has to support a core that is peaking right now, and that's more than good enough to win a championship. If you cannot sign either pitcher within reason -- and note that I'm pessimistic about Sabathia's ability to pitch effectively on the second half of a six-year deal, and that I already had the Dodgers sign Lowe -- then investing in the bullpen and a takes-the-ball guy to pitch in front of a fairly good defense is the way to go.
So here's the plan:
The 2009-10 Mets will have a very high payroll --I just added $45 million to what looked to be a $95-100 million payroll prior to my spending spree -- and may even be subject to the investment tax. At this point in their history, though, with an amazing core, a new ballpark, and a share of the largest market in the game, they have to commit to doing whatever it takes to put this roster over the top. This is not the typical Prospectus approach, but this is not the typical situation, and getting caught up in principles isn't going to turn a very good team into the very best one. This is how to help the