Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets hits a eighth inning single against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Mets are .500, but should focus on the future rather than catching the Braves or Phillies.
The Mets are back at .500, but sit 12 games out of first place in the National League East and 8-1/2 games out of the Wild Card. The team has multiple players on the last (or only) year of their contracts, players that could be attractive to clubs that are still in the playoff race. And, of course, they have Carlos Beltran, the top player available, just like he was back in the summer of 2004.
Beltran had a rough go of it in 2009 and 2010 thanks to a knee injury that required surgery and rest. He played well enough in that stretch -- the two partial seasons combine for 612 plate appearances of .295/.384/.470 hitting -- but there were worries that the knee would continue to bother him and keep him out of the lineup further. That has not been the case in 2011, with Beltran playing in 91 of New York's 96 games while hitting .293/.389/.523 with 14 homers and a league-leading 30 doubles.
Beltran can't steal bases or play center as well as he used to, but he sure can mash. He is going to be a difference maker on whatever team he ends up on, and is the kind of player the Mets need to move in order to add to the farm system during their restocking process. There will be no shortage of suitors, either, so even though his new club won't be able to offer him arbitration and get compensation picks for him this winter, the Mets should see competitive bidding for his services.
The other options aren't as obvious as Beltran, but should be able to find buyers just the same. With Francisco Rodriguez already traded to the Brewers, the Mets installed Jason Isringhausen, one of their inexpensive reclamation projects of the winter, as their new closer. Bobby Parnell is the expected closer of the future, but a few weeks in the role for Isringhausen -- who, in his day, was considered one of the game's best -- should boost his trade value. The 38-year-old hasn't been that good this year, but in his 31 innings, he has 24 strikeouts and 12 unintentional walks, while being as stingy with hits as he was during his best years. The market for relievers is saturated, so the return for Isringhausen won't be mind-blowing, but considering the Mets picked him up as a minor-league free agent, anything would be a coup for Sandy Alderson and Co.
Tim Byrdak is another reliever acquired via minor-league contract, and he could also be moved. In his 24-1/3 frames, the left-hander has struck out 10.4 batters per nine. While he has had problems with his control, walking 4.8 per nine, he is left-handed, and therefore will remain employed until his arm falls off, especially since he can miss bats. Look at trade deadlines past, and you will see there are a lot more of the Tim Byrdaks of the world moved than there are Carlos Beltrans.
Chris Capuano is yet another player signed to a one-year deal who has pumped up their value by pitching with the Mets. His ERAs have jumped all over the place since he started pitching in the majors in 2003, but he has been essentially the same pitcher the whole time. He is striking out 7.5 per nine against 2.6 walks per nine, while his career numbers are 7.4 and 3.0. He is an average-ish hurler, but for a team looking to improve the back-end of their rotation in order to stop the bleeding every fifth day, you could do a lot worse than Capuano. With the way the pitching market looks, the Mets may even be able to get someone to overpay a little for him.
In fact, because of that, they may be able to move Mike Pelfrey to someone desperate as well. Pelfrey has been a disappointment for the Mets: in his 800 innings, he has struck out 5.1 batters per nine and posted a K/BB of 1.6. For his career, is ERA is below-average despite pitcher-friendly home parks. He can thank his road splits for that: in his career, Pelfrey has held opponents to a .260/.325/.365 line at home, but has been terrible on the road at .308/.375/.470. He made almost $4 million this season in his first year of arbitration, meaning he is likely in line for a raise to roughly $6 million then $8 million in the next two seasons. That is money that could go into the Jose Reyes Fund -- the Mets should at least explore the option of moving Big Pelf, just in case any other team believes they can harness the talent many have felt were there for the tall right-hander.
There are others worth discussing as well. Ronny Paulino is hitting .315/.351/.406 as the backup catcher, and could be more than a rental to any team that picks him up, as he has a year of arbitration left. Scott Hairston is being Scott Hairstony, hitting .264/.337/.516 as a bench outfielder. A team in need of an outfielder who can play all three positions (hey, I didn't say he would play center well, but he can play it) and mash lefties could do much worse than Hairston, who has slugged .490 against southpaws in his career despite spending most of it in three of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the game.
The Mets should be taking calls on all of these players, as none of them matter in the long-term for the organization. At the least, every penny saved today is one that can go towards retaining Jose Reyes, a goal that should be even more upfront than it was a week ago now that J.J. Hardy is off of the free-agent market. Moving all of these players is likely to keep the Mets from a season of .500 or better, but in the long-term, it's the right thing to do.