‘Tis the season for reckless speculation. Why fight it?
I’ve been plumbing the pages of MLBDepthCharts.com looking for good potential trade partners for the Mets this offseason. The Mets, we know, need position players — especially outfielders. They have some depth in the starting rotation which, while inherently tenuous, likely represents their greatest strength from which to deal.
Let’s start with the obvious: Johan Santana’s contract and recent injury history probably makes him more or less immovable. Perhaps the Mets could find some team willing to take on his salary for the sake of freeing up some payroll, but it’s doubtful they could do so in a way that would immediately make them appreciably better. Dillon Gee, coming off a season-ending injury, doesn’t seem a good candidate for trade either. And I don’t think any human Mets fan could stomach the idea of trading Matt Harvey after what Harvey did in the second half of 2012. Plus Harvey, as a pitcher who could potentially front the Mets’ rotation a couple years down the road, represents the type of player the Mets in their current situation should be bringing in, not sending away.
The same goes to some extent for Jon Niese, a young lefty who pitched well in 2012 and who is signed to a team-friendly deal through 2016 with options for 2017 and 2018. Niese’s name has come up — and will continue to come up — in trade speculation already this fall due to those qualities; he might be the Met who could return the most from a partner. But with the Mets appearing unlikely to contend in 2013 and Niese likely to contribute to whatever team he’s on in 2014 and 2015, he, too, could make an important part of the Mets’ next competitive team.
R.A. Dickey’s situation is less clear. He’ll turn 38 next week, and though many knuckleballers enjoy success well into their 40s, Dickey is not like many knuckleballers. Plus, he’s only under the Mets’ control for one more season, through a very inexpensive $5 million option for his services 2013. And Dickey, you know, is coming off a career year that might net him the NL Cy Young Award. The Mets could try to lock him up for the next several years with an extension, but doing so will be expensive and will come with a significant amount of risk.
Now, look: No one is saying the Mets should trade Dickey for the sake of trading Dickey, least of all me. But if the Mets want to trade from a position of strength to address a weakness and build for the future, he might be the most logical guy to deal. Though due to his age and contract status he’s not likely to bring back as much as Niese, he’s for the same reasons not as likely to continue contributing to the Mets as efficiently — on a price-per-win basis, at least — as Niese moving forward. And Dickey, on the strength of his awesome 2012 season, should look pretty tempting to a team that feels it is one excellent pitcher away from a postseason run in 2013.
Which brings me to the Los Angeles Angels, who finished four games out of the AL Wild Card in 2012. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson will return to Of Anaheim in 2013, but Zack Greinke is set for free agency and the Angels are expected to buy out 2013 options on Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
To boot, the Angels have a couple of players that might be expendable that the Mets could definitely use. Owner Arte Moreno has said he’d like to bring back Torii Hunter, which would give the club a very crowded outfield mix. In 2012, due to the presence of Hunter, Mark Trumbo and the unspeakably awesome Mike Trout, young Peter Bourjos was relegated to a part-time role for the first time in his professional career. Bourjos struggled, posting a .606 OPS in 195 plate appearances. But Bourjos is by all accounts one of the best defensive center fielders in the game. He’ll be 26 by Opening Day, he’s locked up through arbitration for the next four seasons, and he enjoyed a strong season as the Angels’ everyday center fielder in 2011. Plus he hits right-handed, as almost none of the Mets’ in-house outfielders not named Jason Bay do.
Shortly after the season, the Angels signed catcher Chris Iannetta to a three-year contract extension. Though the deal is hardly expensive enough to prohibit the Angels from using other catchers, and though they lost backup Bobby Wilson on waivers to the Blue Jays shortly thereafter, if Iannetta’s deal signifies the club’s commitment to the backstop, it could free up former prospect Hank Conger for a trade. Conger, who’ll turn 25 in January, has not hit at all in 252 Major League plate appearances across the last three seasons and suffered through some injury woes in 2012. But beyond his prospect pedigree, Conger bats from both sides of the plate and has always hit well in the Minors.
Tell me if this sounds ridiculous — and keep in mind that it’s early, both in the day and in the offseason: How about R.A. Dickey and Josh Thole for Peter Bourjos and Hank Conger? Would the Mets do that? Would the Angels?
The way I see it, the Mets get weaker in the starting rotation, but gain a righty-hitting starting center fielder and a switch-hitting potential starting catcher that are both under team control through the 2016 season. The Angels add an excellent pitcher to their depleted rotation at a discounted price, plus a lefty-hitting backup to Iannetta that can catch the knuckleball.
And not for nothing, since both Bourjos and Conger are set to make the league minimum and Thole will be eligible for arbitration, the trade would free up enough cash for the Mets to sign a righty-hitting catcher to share time with and act as a hedge for Conger (a Kelly Shoppach type, if not Shoppach himself) and Mike Pelfrey to eat up some of Dickey’s innings (albeit not as well) once he returns from injury in May.
What do you think?
And now, more importantly, try to take off your Mets hat and think like an Angels fan for a moment. Keep in mind that both Bourjos and Conger should have value to a lot of teams on the trade market, not just the Mets.