The New York Mets have had a quiet offseason in terms of adding players and making big, splashy free agent signings.
But that hasn't been a surprise. The Mets were on the verge of bankruptcy due to owner Fred Wilpon's involvement with disgraced investor Bernie Madoff and a subsequent lawsuit from those victimized by his Ponzi scheme.
But Alderson told Mets season ticket holders last August that he expected the payroll to increase to $100 million or higher in 2013, according to Mike Vorkunov of the Newark Star-Ledger. Does that mean that the Mets actually have some money available to take a shot at top free-agent talent still available?
CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweeted that the Mets have "quite a bit of money left to spend." Even though the team did give third baseman David Wright an eight-year, $138 million contract extension, he'll actually take a lower salary for 2013 ($5 million less, to be exact) than he would've had with his original $16 million option.
The Mets also saved some money by trading R.A. Dickey and his $5 million option for 2013 to the Toronto Blue Jays while also getting less expensive minor league talent like catcher Travis d'Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndegaard.
Cot's Contracts seems to confirm that, as they currently have the Mets commited to nearly $71 million in payroll, thus far, for 2013. But that doesn't include the figures that need to be given for arbitration-eligible players and yearly salaries to those that haven't yet qualified for arbitration.
According to Heyman, the Mets are looking at using their available funds to address needs in the outfield, bullpen and starting rotation, but not necessarily all three. Furthermore, the implication seems to be that the team could go after a big name to fill one or more of those spots.
It just so happens that three of the top free agents still on the market are outfielder Michael Bourn, reliever Rafael Soriano and starting pitcher Kyle Lohse.
Could the Mets pursue one of these players? And if so, which one might be the best fit for the current roster?
Bourn would provide the proven center fielder and leadoff hitter that the Mets lineup currently lacks. If the season began today, Kirk Nieuwenhuis would probably be the starter in center and would be atop the batting order.
The rookie looked like a sensation after being called up to replace the injured Andres Torres after the first game of the 2012 season. In April, he batted. 325 with an .861 OPS. But Nieuwenhuis tailed off badly, hitting .238 in June and .105 in July before getting demoted to Triple-A Buffalo.
Bourn's .348 on-base percentage surpasses any of the Mets' 2012 starters besides Wright. Also, no one on the roster came close to Bourn's 42 stolen bases—and that was his lowest total in the past four seasons. He would also add an elite glove in center, saving 22 runs more than an average player at that position, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating.
Yet Lohse would also be a fine addition to the Mets roster, giving that the rotation lost its No. 1 starter after Dickey was traded to Toronto.
The 34-year-old right-hander is coming off the best season of his career, going 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 33 starts for the St. Louis Cardinals. Between him and Jonathon Niese, the Mets could have two 200-inning starters at the top of their rotation. Depending on Johan Santana's health, perhaps the Mets could even have three pitchers throw 200-plus innings next season.
Lohse could also hold down the ace role until Matt Harvey or Zach Wheeler develop into that sort of pitcher. He would presumably provide a veteran influence for the pitching staff as well.
But the free agent who might fill the Mets most immediate need is Soriano.
Frank Francisco was, to put it kindly, inconsistent as the closer last season. While he saved 23 games in 48 appearances, Francisco also compiled a 5.53 ERA. Manager Terry Collins had no choice but to use Jon Rauch and Bobby Parnell in the closer role when Francisco was struggling.
Oblique and elbow injuries sidelined Francisco throughout the year, and after the season, he required surgery on his right elbow to remove bone spurs.
Soriano would be a far more dependable option in the ninth inning for the Mets. He saved 42 games for the New York Yankees last season, posting a 2.26 ERA while striking out 69 batters in 67.2 innings.
However, the Mets probably aren't in a position to pay Soriano $15 million per season, which is what he and agent Scott Boras are reportedly seeking. When Soriano opted out of his contract with the Yankees, team president Randy Levine told ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews that Boras was looking for a four-year deal.
Soriano won't get that kind of contract from the Mets. Actually, none of the three free agents mentioned here will get a large multi-year deal, as Alderson continues to overhaul the Mets' entire operation throughout the major and minor leagues.
Of the three, perhaps Lohse could get a two-year contract as the Mets wait for Harvey, Wheeler and Syndegaard to anchor their rotation.
But with the market essentially collapsing for Bourn, Lohse and Soriano—as MLB teams don't want to surrender first- or second-round draft picks in exchange for signing those players—the trio will likely have to accept shorter-term contracts for the upcoming season and perhaps try the market out again next winter.
Under those circumstances, any of the free-agent trio could end up in Flushing—especially if the Mets have as much money on hand as Heyman says they do.
The free-agent market has worked out in the Mets' favor, in ways the team couldn't have anticipated. Will Alderson take advantage of that and add an impact player to his roster?
Fans at Citi Field are surely hoping so.
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