The U Files # 52: Cheap and Cheaper

The Mets have are in a sort of quasi big-market type rebuilding mode. As part of their plan, the Mets have announced that they will not for the time being look to give deals for longer than three years. Due to the lessening insanity of the free agent market, it has been trendy to look toward a boon in the non-tendered free agent market, which is now open. In fact, the costs are cheap, and the talent may be cheaper.

This past Saturday, December 20, was the last day for teams to offer a contract to players on their 40-man roster. A player not tendered a contract becomes a free agent. Currently, there is a list of players who have entered this category.

At the deadline midnight- then Sunday the 21st, there was some hope for improving the Mets rotation, a couple of interesting relievers, and one potential starting right fielder. Several other players could be platoon players or fill a bench role for the Mets. This is probably not the windfall the Mets were hoping for.

The best starting pitcher on the non-tendered market it was just announced is off the market as I set to write this article. Mark Redman, traded from the Florida Marlins to the Oakland Athletics, was non tendered by the A's but has been signed to a three year contract by the Athletics not a day after the deadline passed. So, as it stands there is no above average pitcher on the market left.

Thus, the Mets have lost the best chance to make up for the non-signing of Miguel Batista. Him the Mets for some strange reason decided was not worth more than the bargain contract the Toronto Blue Jays signed him to, despite the fact that Batista is a better pitcher than any currently on the Mets staff. Redman is not as good a pitcher as Batista, being a pitcher 12-15 percent better than average as opposed to Batista's 30 percent. Still, even at that, Redman is definitely a better pitcher than Steve Trachsel and Tom Glavine, and probably Jae Seo. Al Leiter, if he pitches up to his capability, can still post better numbers than Redman.

As a result, the Mets would be better served to give Aaron Heilman the open spot in the rotation and give him a chance to work out his woes under the tutelage of heralded pitching coach Rick Peterson. Any pitcher left on the market now is hardly worth signing. The best pitcher still a free agent as a non-tender is Jason Johnson, who is only an average starter.

Pitcher Damian Moss, who was non-tendered by the Baltimore Orioles, is a project at best, whose chances I don't like. He has not shown an ability to limit walks or home runs, and his strikeout rate is not impressive. His peripherals in the minor leagues were similarly poor.

Still available as relief pitchers are Braden Looper and Danys Baez. Looper shared the Marlins' closer duties with Ugueth U. Urbina (who remains the only Major Leaguer ever with the initials U.U.U.) in 2003. Baez has spent time both starting and relieving in his short career, all with the Cleveland Indians.

Looper posted an ERA of 3.68 which was 9 percent better than the league average ERA adjusted to the pitchers haven that is Pro Player Park. This makes 2003 a dropoff from his prior two years, in which he Looped out ERA 19 and 27 percent better than average. Baez posted an ERA of 3.81 which was 12 percent better than average in more hitter friendly environs in Cleveland, and his career ERA in three years is thirteen percent above average.

The good folks at the Baseball Prospectus website have a statistic which takes the Loops out of ERA as it pertains to relief pitchers, as it accounts for the problems of inherited runners left by a pitcher and those inherited by a pitcher. Adjusted Runs Prevented, ARP, measures a relievers performance in runs saved or cost. Looper comes out with positive ARP of 3.2, 15.4, and 2.5 in 2003, 02, and 01. Baez comes out with positive ARP of 3.9, 1.0, and 8.3 in those years. Neither has saved as many ARP runs as David Weathers (who is a quite solid reliever despite some negativity by some fans) over the last three years, but are probably better relievers than any Met aside from Weathers and Scott Strickland (who is unsuited to close, as he is deficient against lefthanded batters, to put it diplomatically).

The best outfielder on the non-tendered market is former Met Jay Payton, last of the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies have signed another former Met, Jeromy Burnitz, to take Payton's place so Payton is probably a true free agent and not a tease like Redman. Payton's actual stats are inflated due to pitching in some alien land disguised poorly as a baseball stadium, however his park-adjusted stats in Colorado are still above average. Payton's overall 2002 and 2003 OPS are 15 and 12 percent above the park adjusted league average, and Payton is as good an option for right field as there is left (that is not a platoon). Additionally, Payton is younger than some options on the regular free agent market.

Other options include an outfielder that can hit lefty pitchers, to platoon with Timo Perez, who cannot. Perez has hit .290/.325/.420 (Avg/OBP/SLG) over the last three years against right-handed pitchers, but .160/.200/.193 against southpaws. Unfortunately, the two outfielders with platoon splits as non-tenders, 2003 Yankees Karim Garcia and David Dellucci, are both lefty hitters who share Timo's split: they hit righthanders better than lefties. Garcia is the best of the three at hitting lefties, posting a three-year line of .237/.270/.466, which at least shows some power if nothing else. It seems Payton would be a better option than a platoon involving Perez.

Options for the bench include former Cub Randall Simon, a first baseman who rarely strikes out. Simon is a .297/.328/.446 career hitter. He has struck out 123 times in 1396 career AB. He would become the Mets best hitter off the bench.

The Mets signed outfielder Timo Perez (1 year, $850,000) and Joe McEwing (two years, $1 million) last week before they could hit the non-tendered market. The Mets negotiated with pitcher Scott Strickland, but could not reach an agreement before the deadline. The Mets will continue to negotiate with Strickland.

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories