Let’s leave aside, for a moment, the arguments over how much the Mets have to spend. Whether payroll is at $200 million, $100 million or $50 million, the way to maximize it is to pay less for more production at every roster spot. That is intelligent operating, and it helps the Yankees as surely as it helps the Athletics, because it frees up other payroll for additional spending.
Sandy Alderson’s first year in charge was an absolute success because of these kinds of moves. From locking in RA Dickey at a below-market rate, to paying Chris Young and Chris Capuano less combined than most single starting pitchers would make (and receiving, for that money, a combined 210 innings of 4.24 ERA pitching), along with successful secondary parts like Scott Hairston and Tim Byrdak, Alderson took an awfully small number of lemons and produced a surprising amount of lemonade.
This winter, similar approaches to things like the Rule V draft and other value signings will be key. So let’s scour the 22 Triple-A free agents- declared free due to six years of pro experience and no claim on a 40-man roster spot- to determine who can help the Mets most. More to the point, the low cost of these guys means bringing them in is nearly entirely upside. My coveted few are below:
Dusty Brown: A right-handed hitting catcher, Brown posted an .806 OPS in 199 Triple-A plate appearances for Indianapolis in 2011. He’d provide depth, and possibly a decent low-cost platoon partner for Josh Thole if Ronny Paulino isn’t re-signed.
Wil Ledezma: A lefty reliever who averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings in 2011 and 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 2010 at Triple-A. Given the team’s relative lack of lefty options other than Tim Byrdak, and the recent loss of both Pat Misch and Mike O’Connor, I’d love to see him in camp. Remember, bullpens aren’t built with questionable long-term contracts for too much money. They are usually built with guys like this.
Lastings Milledge: I just don’t think it is time to give up on Milledge having a productive major league career. Put up an .805 OPS with 12 home runs and 27 stolen bases in 33 attempts (for a Beltranian 82 percent success rate). Could help the Mets in left field or right field. He’d be a solid fourth outfielder next season. And no, I don’t think his baggage would be problematic. The players he clashed with are gone, and he is, by all reports, a very different clubhouse presence than he was.
P.J. Walters: a big, strong starting pitcher with effective strikeout and walk rates, just 26 years old, for an organization in need of pitching depth. He struggled in Las Vegas after going from St. Louis to Toronto in the Colby Rasmus deal, but it was seven starts- I don’t put much faith in the predictive ability of such a small sample. He’s worth a flyer- could help the back of the rotation next season.