Met-aphorically Speaking

It’s the most-won-derful-tiiiiiiime-of-the-year…

Yeah, Christmas is fun, too. But with the hot stove reaching scorch levels in recent weeks, it’s high time the Mets stop making middling deals and start pushing the envelope to improve this team. Below, I’ve detailed five maneuvers that theoretically could happen, both within the Mets’ trading capabilities and prospective budget.

And, bless their hearts, not one of these deals involve Johan Santana or the left side of the Mets’ infield. Amazin’.

Will they happen? Maybe one of the deals…possibly two. But there’s no reason they can’t happen. And with a little effort, they could, potentially giving the Mets their finest offseason in recent memory.

Remember, immediate improvement doesn’t come cheap, so don’t send me hate mail. Just sit back and imagine the possibilities.

5) Fernando Martinez, John Maine and Jason Vargas to Oakland for Dan Haren
We’re starting with a bit of a no-brainer. The Athletics have made it clear that rebuilding is the order of the day, and everyone in white cleats is available. Though they are more actively pushing Joe Blanton, the much more accomplished Haren can be had for similar resources, and there is simply no reason the Mets should play bridesmaid here by going for their #2 offering.

Fernando Martinez is being touted as a potential 30 HR guy, but at 17, is still a few years away from doing so. And a lot can happen to change a prospect’s future during that few years. Remember Craig Brazell? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Coupling F-Mart with Maine and Vargas fills Oakland’s immediate losses, makes them younger, and sets them up for an impressive 2010. The Mets get their #2 starter and few extra million on the payroll.

Hey, at least it’s not A-Rod.

4) Johnny Estrada, Joe Smith, Aaron Heilman and Kevin Mulvey to Baltimore for Ramon Hernandez and Erik Bedard
You’re screaming, “No way!” but this one has plenty of potential, should the Mets try to once again pillage our neighbors from 95-south. Just hear me out. I don’t think Estrada has invested in a lot of Manhattan real estate as of yet. He’s a nice pickup for what we gave up (the life sucking fleshbag known as Guillermo Mota), but Estrada just feels like a short-term rental. He also improves on none of the Mets’ durability and throwing problems from the last few years, making him nothing more than a taller Paul LoDuca with slightly more pop. Not exactly a major upgrade, Omar. But the O’s are tiring of Ramon Hernandez and his paycheck, and would love to add a switch hitting catcher with power to knock some balls off the factory walls in right. Besides, who wouldn’t want to hear about Ramon Hernandez catching Orlando Hernandez, brought to you by Keith Hernandez? Pure comedy.

The second part of this deal is much trickier. Bedard had a lights out year for a very dim team, but if anyone is expecting another 13-win season for him in Baltimore, they’d be sorely mistaken. Bedard isn’t exactly a flash in the pan, but he can be a mid-rotation strikeout guy for years to come. The Orioles know they’re going to lose him eventually, anyway, so they might as well get some decent return. That return could come in the form of Aaron Heilman, who will finally get to start, and Kevin Mulvey, a highly-rated pitcher that is at least a few years from contributing. We’ll throw in Joe Smith, who fizzled late but has value, simply because we owe the O’s for past indiscretions. Everyone wins.

3) Sign Mike Cameron and Tony Clark
Yes, I’ve been a loud voice in the ongoing “Mets are too old” campaign. But these two fill some needs, and have proven in the past to be more than capable of handling New York. Cameron, once he finishes serving his drug suspension, will take over right field, which is now vacant due to the losses of Shawn Green and Last–wait — we’ll get to this in a bit. Cameron can still run, hit for power, and will fill a 6/7 slot nicely. He can hold space until younger bodies are ready, and given his poorly-timed free agency drug charges, the Mets should be able to get him for a discount, as well.

Tony Clark was more impressive in a Mets uniform than numbers would initially dictate. His HR/AB ratio was stellar, and he did a more than adequate job in the field. With Delgado getting older and less capable with the glove, and Shawn Green no longer around to spell him at first, Clark provides a much stronger bench option than say, David Newhan, Ben Johnson or Ricky Ledee. If Mike Carp is ready, you can nix this deal, but we won’t know about Carp until spring, will we? And Clark will be long gone by then.

2) Sign Shawn Chacon and Octavio Dotel
A few years back, the Mets were blessed with a versatile guy named Darren Oliver. It was a benign signing to say the least…that is, until half the Mets rotation went down with hangnails and menstrual pains. Oliver stepped up and filled both the spot start and long relief roles admirably. When it came time to re-sign, Oliver capitalized on his performance and got well overpaid by the Angels. Hey, more power to him. Still, the long relief spot was one of many things wrong with the 2007 Mets bullpen, and it showed. Enter Shawn Chacon. Coming off a decent year with the Pirates, Chacon would fill the exact same role as Oliver did in ‘06, and possibly even surpass his performance. He won’t be the cheapest option available for long relief, but he’s likely to be the best.

Octavio Dotel was a good Met. So good, that it took a player like the then-awesome Mike Hampton to make him expendable. Now that Heilman is theoretically headed for Charm City, the set up role is vacant. Dotel would make an excellent set up guy, and spot closer for when Billy Wagner gets another bout of dead arm. He’s injury prone, but find me a current free agent that isn’t. Roll the dice.

1) Lastings Milledge, Mike Pelfrey, two higher prospects for Scott Kazmir
Okay, I’ve saved the best (read: least likely) for last. It’s time to right the second biggest wrong in modern Mets history (sorry, Dykstra and McDowell for Juan Samuel takes first…forever). And it’s not going to cost us as much as the paperwork would first indicate. Kazmir has proven himself to be a solid starter, if not the ace the Sunny Delights claim him to be. He throws hard, rarely misses the zone, and is generally reliable into the late innings. He tends to be fly-ball happy, but all signs point toward the new Mets stadium being as pitcher-friendly as Shea, so it’s not too much to panic about.

Milledge has been a part of every Mets trade offer this offseason, so it’s safe to say he’s available. I think the kid has it in him to be a .300/25/100 guy, but I just don’t see it happening in Queens. Having been burnt by prospects exploding after leaving the Mets — see Jason Isringhausen, Melvin Mora, and Kevin Mitchell for examples — I am aware of how damaging this move could be, especially in exchange for a pitcher. But this is a chance I’d be willing to take if I was Omar Minaya, simply because it just makes sense.

The Rays would be getting an everyday starter and a major league-tested arm. Pelfrey hasn’t been wholly successful thus far, but he has shown signs of brilliance, and at 23, has a lot of upside. Pelfrey’s best starts have been on short notice, which seems to indicate that his biggest opponent is his own head. Perhaps a move to a less stressful environment would benefit his game and allow him to be the pitcher everyone wanted just a year ago. Milledge is from the Tampa area, and needs to play everyday. Period. And since Rocco Baldelli seems to be on the way out, an outfield combination of Milledge, Dukes, Crawford and Young would be the most gangsta sight in MLB history. There’s your Devil right there, Rays fans.

I realize this is by far the most far-reaching of the above proposals, but it also makes enough sense that it could happen, benefiting both sides of the deal. Perhaps I’ve low-balled it with the B-level prospect and draft pick, but remember that the Rays aren’t that far away from being awesome, and this might be the kick in the **** they need.

Okay, where does this leave us for 2008? If the Mets followed my advice, they would be working with a much higher payroll, less prospects, and lower-valued trading chips. Plus, they would have to drop a reliable guy like El Duque, and less reliable guys like Burgos and Schoeneweis. They would also be built to win in 2008 and beyond.

Likewise, this allows for guys like Alou and Delgado to get more regular rest, preserving them for a postseason run and at the same time, grooming younger talent like Carlos Gomez for potential starting roles. Endy Chavez and Ramon Castro would also receive more playing time, and for insurance against inevitable injuries, Ruben Gotay awaits in New Orleans. Hell, the Mets would even have one of the best pinch hitting benches in recent memory. One big, happy clubhouse - more big, happy Shea crowds.

Let’s look at the potential lineup:

1B - Delgado (Clark, Easley)
2B - Castillo (Anderson, Easley)
SS - Reyes (Easley, Anderson)
3B - Wright (Easley, Clark)
LF - Alou (Chavez, Anderson)
CF - Beltran (Chavez, Gomez)
RF - Cameron (Chavez, Gomez)
C - Hernandez (Castro)

And the pitching:

S1 - Martinez
S2 - Haren
S3 - Perez
S4 - Bedard
S5 - Kazmir

Long - Chacon
Middle - Sosa
Short - Sanchez
Short - Feliciano
Setup - Dotel
Closer - Wagner

And finally, the bench:


Not bad, eh? If I do my math correctly, this adds up to 25 players, all of which are capable of starting and contributing if need be. It also shows a dramatically different pitching staff, which is exactly what the Mets need if they are to shake the demons of 2007. Drastic? For sure. Realistic? Not really, given the current market. But, as hypotheticals go, these are as good as any, if not better.

And they make sense for all teams involved. Now, if the Mets would only do the same. If I can come up with these deals while sitting at my desk, avoiding work, what in the blue hell is Minaya’s excuse? Make something happen and back up all that empty “the time is now” garbage we’ve been promised for three years running.



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