Should the Mets break up their core?

Posted on November 12, 2010 by

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Each year that the Mets fail to reach the playoffs, critics say the solution is to break up the core of the team. If the Mets cannot advance to the post-season with Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana and David Wright, the belief goes, then the team should trade one or more of them to shake things up and improve the future of the club.

This idea received more exposure yesterday, with the news that Carlos Beltran would be potentially open to waiving his no-trade clause. Of course, the thrust of Beltran’s statement was that he wanted to retire as a member of the Mets, but the portion that drew the most attention was when he said:

“I know that I have the no-trade clause, but if the team is searching or looking to trade a guy, I have to listen.”

So, Beltran did not say he wanted to be traded. He did not say he would be willing to move to certain teams. All he said was that if he was approached, he would listen. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

However, I do not want to spend this column parsing each individual word of Beltran’s comments. Instead, I want to focus on the idea of trading one of the stars of the Mets to make the club better in the long run. Is it a good idea for any of the four players mentioned above? How likely is it that will happen? What kind of return would the Mets be likely to receive?

Beltran
Good idea – No
Likely to happen – less than 25%
Return – Mostly salary relief, at best a “B” level prospect

Beltran has one year and $18.5 million left on his contract, although $5.5 million of that is deferred, according to Cot’s. Additionally, there is a clause that the club agrees not to offer arbitration following the 2011 season. So, any interested trading partner has to re-sign Beltran or they will lose him without receiving any compensation draft picks.

That contract clause, the amount of money due Beltran and the injuries that have slowed him the past two seasons make trading him a tall order. It’s extremely unlikely that any club will deal for Beltran before the start of the season, with uncertainty over how his knee holds up trumping whatever value he may have on the field.

The most likely scenario for a Beltran deal would be at the trading deadline, after he has had several months to prove healthy. Additionally, the new team would not be on the hook for nearly as much salary this way. Still, the Mets would likely have to pick up a large chunk of salary. And without the possibility of draft pick compensation, teams are not likely to give back much of a prospect haul for a three-month rental.

The Mets are likely to open the season with Beltran on the roster and the best scenario is that he returns to his 2008-level of performance, when he posted a 7.1 fWAR and was a down ballot MVP candidate. If that’s the case, he either is leading the Mets back into contention or perhaps even sparks a mini bidding war for his services at the trade deadline.


Reyes
Good idea – Possibly
Likely to happen – less than 40%
Return – “A” level prospect, salary relief

The Mets picked up their option on Reyes for 2011 and will be paying him $11 million. Like Beltran, Reyes has missed significant time the past two seasons due to injury, although he played in 133 games last year.

It took Reyes about three weeks to shake off the rust from missing most of the 2009 season. But in his last 112 games of the year, Reyes posted a .295/.330/.453 line, which fit in well with the .816 OPS he posted during his 2006-2008 peak. While Reyes was down about 25 points of OBP, his AVG and SLG were right in line with what he did previously when he was considered one of the top shortstops in the game.

One of the key components of Reyes’ game is getting on base and causing havoc by stealing. But new general manager Sandy Alderson may not encourage the SB as an offensive weapon, potentially reducing the impact that Reyes can have for the Mets.

While Reyes, both younger and cheaper than Beltran, is likely to bring a greater haul, he is more difficult to replace, which may be the biggest mark against trading him. Ruben Tejada showed potential in September with the bat, but it is still very much in question if he will hit enough to be an asset in the majors. Few believe that top prospect Wilmer Flores will remain at SS as he advances up the ladder.

The best case scenario is that Reyes returns to being an impact leadoff hitter. While Alderson is not a fan of the SB, he will likely make an exception for Reyes, who has been successful on 80 percent of his lifetime attempts. While another 78-steal season like 2007 is virtually out of the question, no one should be surprised if Reyes racks up 40 SB this year.

Santana
Good idea – No
Likely to happen – Less than 5%
Return – Some salary relief, perhaps some “C” level prospects

Very few teams could afford the $77.5 million (which includes $5.5 million buyout of the $25 million club option for 2014) due Santana for the next three seasons. And those teams are no doubt turned off by the fact that Santana has undergone surgery the past three years.

A lot of people view Santana’s tenure with the Mets as a disappointment, which seems insane. In three seasons with the Mets, Santana has a 40-25 record with a 2.85 ERA. That’s a .615 winning percentage, which is the exact same mark posted by Tom Seaver in his career with the Mets. His ERA is third-best in the history of the team.

Santana is no longer in the discussion for best pitcher in baseball, and yes, he is a disappointment compared to his salary. But Santana has given the Mets a pitcher to match up against the best in the league and he nearly single-handedly pitched the Mets to the playoffs in 2008.

Health concerns ensure that Santana will be in the Mets organization at the start of the season, likely on the disabled list. It’s possible that he comes back in time to have some trade value at the deadline if the Mets pick up the majority of his salary. It’s hard to imagine why they would trade a healthy Santana, but I suppose the possibility exists.

Wright
Good idea – Probably not
Likely to happen – Less than 33%
Return – “A” level prospect plus other considerations, salary relief

It is a testament to how good Wright is that he has posted back-to-back seasons of .368 and .364 wOBA and is considered to have had sub-par years.

A 46-point drop in OBP is a big concern for Wright, much bigger than the strikeout rate which everyone focuses on instead. Last year Wright allayed concerns about his power, as he nearly tripled his HR output from 2009. Hopefully he can do the same this year with concerns about his walk rate.

Wright is the face of the franchise, which makes trading him difficult. But the flip side of that is that he would bring back the greatest haul, and is likely the easiest member of the core to replace. Forgotten man Daniel Murphy is a third baseman and the hot corner is likely where Flores will wind up eventually.

Still, does Alderson want to be known as the man who traded Wright? At the ripe old age of 28, Wright already holds the club record for doubles (258) and runs created (763), and is well represented in the top 10 leaderboard for most other offensive categories for the Mets.

*****

Alderson would not be doing his job if he did not both listen and actively solicit offers for the four players listed above. He is not likely to receive anything that would make trading either Beltran or Santana a winning proposition for the Mets.

Reyes and Wright both have more trade value and therefore are much more likely to be dealt if Alderson thinks the team needs a shift in direction. While Wright has more trade value, I believe Reyes is more likely to be dealt because his speed is likely worth less to Alderson than other GMs. Still, I think it is more likely than not that each of the core members of the team stays with the Mets for the duration of the 2011 season.

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Posted in: Perspectives