Commentary

Mets have options -- many of them bad

The winter is loaded with perilous questions, starting with Reyes' contract

Updated: October 5, 2010, 7:46 AM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

First the New York Mets must resolve their front-office composition. Then they can get down to the business of putting together their 2011 edition. That figures to be a big challenge, with the Wilpons' payroll commitment for next season already flirting with $130 million before any winter activity.

Teams can start expressing interest in free agents immediately after the World Series, and begin bidding five days after that.

Whoever is in charge will lay groundwork for offseason trades at the general managers' meetings in Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 16-17. Weeks later, executives and agents will reconvene in Florida for the Dec. 6-9 winter meetings at Disney's Swan and Dolphin in Lake Buena Vista.

Also on tap: an Oct. 18 hearing before an arbitrator concerning suspended closer Francisco Rodriguez's grievance over lost pay and the conversion of his contract to nonguaranteed.

Here's an offseason primer:

POTENTIAL FREE AGENTS

Jose Reyes. He technically can be a free agent, but the Mets are expected to exercise their team option for $11 million for 2011. At some point the organization can discuss signing Reyes to an extension that would supersede that option, but no talks have occurred as the Mets wait to first sort out their front office. One way the Mets can gain payroll flexibility for this winter is by signing Reyes to an extension that calls for a lower base salary next season, with higher pay on the back end of the deal. Of course, one reason the Mets got into their current predicament with a bloated payroll is by backloading previous deals. A Mets official predicted everything would be on the table this winter, including looking into trading Reyes. But the timing isn't exactly right for getting maximum value, since Reyes missed significant time the past two seasons with health issues and only is under control for one more season at this point.

[+] EnlargeJose Reyes
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireThere may be a good time to deal Reyes, but this isn't it.

Pedro Feliciano. Feliciano presents an interesting dilemma. The reliever has been invaluable as a left-handed specialist, both in terms of effectiveness and durability. He has set franchise records for appearances in three straight seasons, with 86 in 2008, 88 in 2009 and with No. 89 on Tuesday. The 34-year-old Feliciano is making $2.9 million this season. If a team is willing to give him a raise and guarantee two to three years, Feliciano may be priced out of the Mets' willingness to pay. What would the Mets possibly do then? There are no obvious answers in the system, where farmhands Eric Niesen and Mike Antonini might be the best alternatives.

Hisanori Takahashi. Although Takahashi came to the Mets on a minor league deal and had rookie status this year, the Mets granted him the right to be a free agent after the season. That's going to cost the organization, which has exclusive negotiating rights with the Japanese southpaw through October. With Johan Santana potentially not ready for the start of the season following shoulder surgery, Takahashi's versatility could be valuable. Even though batters hit Takahashi better the more times they see him in a game, he still could be effective as a part-time starter. And he showed he has the savvy to handle the back end of the bullpen, too, despite hardly jaw-dropping velocity readings. Entering the final homestand, Takahashi was 8-for-8 in save chances.

Henry Blanco. There is little doubt Josh Thole will be the primary catcher in 2011, with expectations within the industry that he could hit .290 with five homers and be an average defensive catcher in that role. The Mets will need a righty-hitting backup who can play 20 to 30 percent of the time. Re-signing Blanco to fill that role is plausible, although he will turn 40 late next season, which is perhaps a red flag.

Fernando Tatis. Originally part of a platoon with Mike Jacobs at first base, Tatis hit .185 in 65 at-bats and ultimately underwent shoulder surgery. The Mets are expected to move on, with Nick Evans potentially assuming that role as righty bat for the bench who can play first base, third base and left field.

Elmer Dessens. The right-handed reliever has been a workhorse, and put up a quality 2.40 ERA entering the final homestand. He turns 40 on Jan. 13. Bringing him back as a spring-training candidate for a bullpen spot appears a realistic option.

Kelvim Escobar. Safe to say he won't be back. Escobar arrived in spring training with shoulder woes and eventually underwent surgery while collecting $1.25 million and never throwing a pitch for the organization.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE

Angel Pagan. The outfielder agreed to a $1.45 million salary last season to avoid arbitration. Now eligible for the second time, and under the Mets' control through the 2012 season, Pagan's salary could jump to the $4 million range.

Mike Pelfrey. Because Pelfrey's original multimillion-dollar deal with the Mets as a first-round pick expired after the 2009 season without the right-hander's having gained enough service time to be arbitration-eligible, the Mets were able to exercise a $500,000 option for this season. Now, Pelfrey has the required three years of service time to be eligible for arbitration. As the Mets' wins leader, he could be due for a hefty raise. ESPN's Keith Law forecasts Pelfrey could be due at least $4 million.

[+] EnlargePelfrey
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswirePelfrey could collect a Wilpon windfall in arbitration.

R.A. Dickey. Despite having debuted in the majors in 2001, Dickey cannot be a free agent until after the 2011 season -- and that's contingent upon him spending 165 of the 183-day season on the major league roster next year. Regardless, Dickey could perhaps triple the $600,000 salary he was due to make this year -- or earn even more.

John Maine. Maine's Mets career is almost assuredly over. Because Maine made $3.3 million in 2010, the Mets will be forced to cut him, since a player has to make 80 percent of his previous year's salary in arbitration -- and a pay cut almost never happens. (A.J. Burnett once received the same salary after missing a full year recovering from Tommy John surgery.) Maine, who underwent shoulder surgery again this year, could wind up with Milwaukee, where pitching coach Rick Peterson long has been an admirer.

Sean Green. Green ended up on the disabled list after one April appearance with a fracture in a rib. After his rehab assignment expired, the Mets left him at Triple-A Buffalo until rosters expanded in September. Green made $975,000 this season and likely would not be due a raise in arbitration. He also has a minor league option remaining. Will the Mets cut Green by the Dec. 2 deadline, after which they must commit to arbitration? The current front office likely would drop Green, but let's see who is running things when the decision needs to be made.

UNLOADABLE?

Oliver Perez. Rather than signings this winter, the bulk of the energy may be spent trying to unload contracts. Good luck finding someone to take on Perez. There seems zero chance Perez actually makes it to Opening Day with the Mets. Still, it seems equally unlikely another organization would take on any of the $12 million owed to Perez in 2011. The Mets likely will be forced to eat the remainder of the contract.

[+] EnlargeOllie Perez
Joe Petruccio

Luis Castillo. Although not as rock solid, Castillo likely is a goner, too, with the Mets perhaps finding an onerous contract elsewhere to match up with the $6 million owed to Castillo in 2011. If the Mets stay internal for a replacement, some combination of Daniel Murphy and Ruben Tejada could be the answer at the position for next season. Murphy is now playing second base in the instructional league in Fort Myers, Fla. He then intends to continue his education at that position with Aguilas in the Dominican Republic this winter.

Carlos Beltran. Beltran had shown some recent signs of life before leaving last Tuesday's game with right knee pain. The Mets undoubtedly will explore trading options. That should be a chore. Multiple baseball sources suggest the Mets would need to heavily subsidize the $18.5 million owed to Beltran in the final year of his deal in 2011 in order to find a taker. The Mets rarely have shown an inclination to pay such subsidies. And during a season in which they may be forced to underwrite Perez and Castillo playing elsewhere, lumping Beltran in that group, too, seems like a long shot. That brings up another messy question. Would the Mets move Beltran to right field and have Pagan play center field next season? They have already eroded a ton if goodwill with public sniping over whether Beltran had permission to have surgery and whether he had a valid reason to not join teammates on a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C.

KEY DATES

Nov. 23. Final day to offer arbitration to Mets free agents to get draft-pick compensation if they sign elsewhere. Feliciano could be a Type A free agent, which would net the Mets two picks. The danger, though, is that Feliciano could turn around and agree to arbitration with the Mets, and return on a one-year deal with a contract costing as much as $4 million.

Nov. 30. Last-day free agents offered arbitration can accept and return to their 2010 clubs with the right for a hearing.

Dec. 2. Deadline to offer arbitration to players still under control, or to nontender them and cut them loose. That's the group with three to six years' experience that includes Pagan and Maine.

Jan. 18. Salary arbitration figures exchanged.

Feb. 1-21. Arbitration hearings.

Feb. 13. Voluntary reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players.

Feb. 18. Voluntary reporting date for position players.

OFFSEASON ACTION

Just because the Mets' regular season is complete does not mean play is done for the winter. The Mets are currently holding an instructional league in Fort Myers, Fla., for farmhands. The group includes Murphy, who is learning to play second base as he returns from a knee injury, as well as top prospect Wilmer Flores and 2010 first-round pick Matt Harvey, a right-hander who signed for $2.525 million out of the University of North Carolina.

The Arizona Fall League begins Oct. 12, with the Mets' farmhands assigned to Mesa. The top prospect participating: outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Catcher Kai Gronauer, infielder Jordany Valdespin, left-handers Robert Carson and Eric Niesen, right-handers Brad Holt and Nick Carr, and pitching coach Ricky Bones round out the group.

Defending Caribbean Series champion Escogido (Dominican Republic), with ex-Met Moises Alou as GM and Triple-A manager Ken Oberkfell as skipper, will have a heavy Mets presence. Scheduled to play for the club are Lucas Duda, Fernando Martinez and Joaquin Arias. Jenrry Mejia, assuming he recovers from a shoulder injury, plans to pitch as a starter for Escogido. Panamanian infielder Ruben Tejada may find himself playing in Venezuela.

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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