COMMENTARY | The 2013 baseball season is still in its fetal state. Teams like the Colorado Rockies, for instance, have until March 31--about 17 days from now--to make organization-altering decisions, like tapping Miguel Batista over Daniel Rosenbaum as their long man.
Oh, there will be blood (or at least, poetry).
For the New York Mets, however, there are grander issues at hand. As etched in stone as the Mets' poor fate seems to be, there are some key future dates that will help shed light on the team's actual chances this coming season. From April 19 through April 28, the Mets play nine games against perennial rivals, the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies.
In addition, the oft-anticipated Subway Series (consisting of four games) commences May 27 at Citi Field, and concludes May 30 at Yankee Stadium. Heck, even the free post-game Foreigner concert is scheduled for June 14--which will be 67 games into the season. By mid-June, will the Mets be "Hot Blooded" or "Cold As Ice"? Only time will tell.
Yet, when Marlon Byrd is considered the favorite to start in right field, it's only just that Mets realists are mostly focused on July 31, the non-waiver trade deadline. Similar to how the front office acquired top prospects for Carlos Beltran in 2011, and for R.A. Dickey during this offseason, there are a variety of current Mets players who should be donning different jerseys if the organization correctly forges ahead with its rebuilding effort.
The most obvious trade candidate would be Johan Santana, who is in the final season of the six-year, $137.5M contract he signed back in 2008. While Santana was a valuable asset through his first three years in orange and blue (combined 143 ERA+, 3.02 K/BB over 600 IP), the southpaw missed 2011 in its entirety with an anterior capsule tear, and he didn't look like the same pitcher in 2012 (79 ERA+, 2.85 K/BB over 117 IP).
Santana also, unfortunately, missed some time toward the end of 2012 with a lower-back injury--the same injury that will likely force him to miss the start of 2013. If the 34-year-old can bounce back and prove his value even a semi-reliable option, the Mets will most certainly dangle the veteran to the highest taker. However, unlike Beltran or Dickey, who were elite producers at the time of their respective trades, the Mets would be lucky to command a B-level prospect in return for Santana.
After Santana, Shaun Marcum and Brandon Lyon, who were both free-agent signings, will too likely hit the block come midseason. Marcum was a great buy-low free-agent signing by the Mets, as other suitors were likely scared off by the pitcher's right-elbow injury that forced him to miss 61 games from June 15 through August 24 last season. The injury was a shame as the right-hander had accumulated a 3.39 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 2.96 K/BB through his first 13 starts for the Brewers.
Even though the 31-year-old didn't look as sharp when he returned in August, hurling a 4.32 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and 2.13 K/BB to his credit, Marcum has been an extremely consistent, productive pitcher over the past three seasons (113 ERA+, 3.06 K/BB combined). As a testament to his value, before 2011, the win-now Brewers traded Brett Lawrie to acquire Marcum (and his two remaining arbitration years) from the Toronto Blue Jays. So considering the mere one-year, $4 million base (with another $4 million in incentives) commitment the Mets have in place, Marcum could potentially evolve into a better chip than Santana--albeit, not quite Lawrie-worthy again.
Shifting to relief corps, Mets new relief pitcher Brandon Lyon had always found little trouble peaking teams' interest in the past. In his first year as a free agent, the Detroit Tigers handed the then-29-year-old a one-year, $4.25 million deal despite posting a sub-par 98 ERA+ in 2008. And in 2010, a free agent again, the Houston Astros wasted little time making the right-hander their new closer, signing Lyon to a three-year, $15 million pact. The reliever had his ups and downs with the Astros, including a costly biceps tendon and labrum tear in 2011, but the veteran bounced back in 2012, boasting a 134 ERA+, 3.15 K/BB over 61 IP for the Astros and Blue Jays.
However, going into his third and most recent free-agent offseason, interest in the 33-year-old mysteriously vanished. Due to the sudden, lackluster reliever market, the Mets were able to ink Lyon to a pedestrian one-year, $.75 million contract, with an additional (but still reasonable) $1.55 million in performance and roster bonuses. Assuming Lyon continues to flourish in a setup role (to Bobby Parnell), the Mets can leverage his solid track record to playoff-contending organizations. It might be a stretch, but if the Mariners were able to pluck interesting farm pieces like Leon Landry and Logan Bawcom for setup men, and free-agent bound Brandon League (104 ERA+, 1.42 K/BB in 2012, prior to trade), perhaps the Mets could acquire more than just minor-league fodder in return for Lyon.
The final potential deadline victim could be Daniel Murphy. Murphy has long been involved in trade whisperings but always seems to avoid it by a timely injury. In fact, 2012 was the first season since 2009 that Murphy collected more than 500 PAs (612 PAs in 2012). But even when Murphy has his health, the hitter has been less effective over the course of a full season (102 OPS+ in 2012, and 96 OPS+ in 2009) than shortened seasons (126 OPS+ in 2011, 130 OPS+ in 2008).
The 27-year-old just entered his first year of arbitration, and saw his salary rise 471 percent (from around $.512 million to $2.925 million). Even if Murphy proves to just be a 100 OPS+ hitter, prospective suitors would obviously value him (and his two remaining arbitration years) higher than a rental with a similar skill set. For the Mets' sake, it might be prudent to trade in Murphy's team-control years for a solid farm-hand who will be major-league ready by the time the organization is actually ready to compete (Murphy would likely be a free agent by then anyway).
As much as fans should hope for their team's success, an ideological change or heart or fluke first half would only do the Mets organization a major disservice for their future. The front office has done a terrific job to date of infusing their once-fledgling farm system with highly regarded talent like Zack Wheeler, Travis d'Arnaud, and Noah Syndergaard via trade, as well as adding Michael Fulmer, Brandon Nimmo, Luis Mateo, and Rafael Montero via the draft and amateur signings.
But if the Mets decide to retain their replaceable assets like Santana, Marcum, Lyon, and Murphy--or worse, potentially part with any of their top prospects as a result of unexpected, short-term success--the Mets will just continue in their revolving door of mediocrity for years to come.
Ben Berkon is a freelance sports, humor, and tech writer/blogger from New York City. Berkon's work has been featured on The Huffington Post, The Onion, Contently, Medium, and Rising Apple, and he also manages The Beanball and Blah Blah Berkon, his personal stat-heavy baseball and humor blogs, respectively. He's [unfortunately] been a Mets follower his entire life. Follow him at @BenBerkon.