Looking ahead to pending free agents

Looking ahead to pending free agents

NEW YORK -- Beginning the day after the final game of the World Series, Mets fans can expect vacancies in the 40-man roster to start to open up. The 15-day period for eligible players to file for free agency begins at midnight that day, and 13 players who ended the 2007 season in the Mets' 40-man roster are eligible.

Some of the filings and likely departures to follow will not greatly affect the Mets -- Jeff Conine, Aaron Sele and Sandy Alomar Jr. are expected to file. But the field also includes several players who could fill important roles with the club next season if they re-sign.

The following is a brief analysis of each potential free agent, including his age -- an increasingly important factor in the Mets' universe -- and pertinent statistics from the 2007 season.

Alomar Jr., 41: Seven games, 21 at-bats and .143 batting average.

That Alomar spent most of what he had said would be his final season playing in the Minor Leagues is a testament to his appreciation of the game and his desire to have a chance to experience October baseball one more time. However, there is no place for him in the Mets' blueprint for 2008.

Moises Alou, 41: 87 games, 328 at-bats, .341 batting average, 14 home runs, 49 RBIs, 51 runs, .392 on-base percentage and .524 slugging percentage.

The club has an option on his contract for 2008 for $7.5 million, and it must be exercised by Nov. 15. If it is not exercised, Alou is due $1 million. Bringing Alou back -- even though he will turn 42 in July -- is quite likely. The only periods when the batting order produced as expected in the 2007 season coincided with Alou's presence, hardly a coincidence. And next season, he may be more comfortable in the role as a leader -- a role that would fill an increasingly conspicuous void.

Marlon Anderson, 33: 65 games, 95 at-bats overall. With the Mets: 43 games, 69 at-bats; 10-for-28 (.357), one home run and 14 RBIs as a pinch-hitter.

Once manager Willie Randolph's job was deemed secure by general manager Omar Minaya, the chances of Anderson returning improved. Anderson is a self-proclaimed "Willie guy," and Randolph appreciates how Anderson plays the game, to say nothing of Anderson's remarkable production as a pinch-hitter. The Mets' reluctance to offer Anderson a two-year contract after the 2005 season was, to some degree, a decision that made a modicum of a sense based on finances. But the two-year contracts subsequently afforded Julio Franco and then Guillermo Mota raised eyebrows and looked silly when Anderson was so productive for the Dodgers in the second half of the '06 season. It would be difficult to imagine the Mets not pursuing Anderson now. He has a .329 average in 85 pinch-hit at-bats in two tours with the Mets.

Luis Castillo, 32: 135 games, 548 at-bats and a .301 average with the Twins and Mets.

Castillo's slugging percentage in 199 at-bats with the Mets was .372, 20 points higher than it had been in 349 at-bats with the Twins. His on-base percentage with the Mets was 15 points higher than it had been with the Twins.

What to do? Castillo was sound defensively, but not physically. He fit nicely into the No. 2 spot in the order and would have had greater value there had Jose Reyes' offensive output not disappeared. He played in 50 of 56 games after the Mets acquired him, but his right knee appears to be a chronic problem that requires occasional rest. He has averaged 133 games and 18 stolen bases the last three seasons.

If the Mets are certain he's 32, that's one thing. But if they're not, then they might want to consider this: they could have a 41-year-old left fielder, a 35-year-old first baseman and 30-something second baseman playing behind El Duque (age unknown) and a 36-year-old closer. And who and how old is the '08 catcher? And if Tom Glavine returns...

Ramon Castro, 31: 52 games (35 starts), 144 at-bats, 11 home runs, 24 runs and 31 RBIs.

If the Mets are uncertain about the identity of their regular catcher, how sure can they be about his understudy? When he did play, Castro was a remarkable run producer. All his home runs and 29 of his RBIs came in his 35 starts. But for the second straight year, he went down with a late-season injury. How will his durability factor if Paul Lo Duca doesn't return and his successor needs more time off than Lo Duca needed?

Conine, 41: 21 games and 41 at-bats with the Mets after more regular duty with the Reds.

Conine has retired.

Mike Di Felice, 36: 16 games, 40 at-bats, .250 batting average and five RBIs.

If he is again willing, Di Felice probably will serve as a Minor League catcher and unofficial coach and provide off-the-roster depth for the big league team.

Damion Easley, turns 38 next month: 76 games, 193 at-bats, 26 RBIs, 10 home runs and a .280 batting average.

Easley was in the midst of a terrific season as the Mets utilityman before he suffered that gruesome and catastrophic left ankle sprain on Aug. 19. He had started 46 games, 34 at second base and, more often than not, acquitted himself well. His power was an important component on the bench. If the Mets retain Castillo, and they're certain Easley will be unaffected by the ankle, he would be an ideal backup at second base.

Glavine, 41: 34 starts, 200 1/3 innings, 13-8 record and a 4.45 ERA.

The tar-and-feather hysteria caused by his shortfall performance in September seems unmindful of this: if Glavine doesn't return -- and even if does -- the team needs a pitcher to do what he did in 2007. Where are the Mets to find one, let alone two, starters capable of a 3.88 ERA and 13-6 record in his first 31 starts. Glavine has proven he can fix what's wrong with the Mets, and lacked the opportunity to make repairs in September. He probably has 10-12 victories left in him, and wouldn't it be something if he produced one or two with the Braves -- against the Mets!

Shawn Green, turns 35 next month: 130 games (117 starts, 10 at first base), 446 at-bats, 62 runs, 46 RBIs, 10 home runs, a .291 batting average and 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts.

If the Mets regular first baseman batted right-handed, Green could serve as a well-suited backup at first and in the outfield. With Carlos Gomez and Lastings Milledge batting right-handed coupled with the likelihood that Alou will miss time and that Gomez or Milledge may have to start games in left, there could be a place for Green.

But not at the $9.5 million salary he earned last season. Green's strong finish -- a .411 average with 12 runs in 56 at-bats September -- nonetheless produced only eight RBIs. Green's run production was an issue most of the season.

Lo Duca, 35: 119 games (112 starts), 445 at-bats, 46 runs, 54 RBIs, nine home runs and a .272 batting average.

Lo Duca played most of his second season with the Mets at age 35, often recognized as the line of decline for catchers. Not coincidentally, his offensive production sagged considerably: his RBIs increased by five from 2006, but that was a function of batting lower in the order.

His average with runners in scoring position was 55 points lower, .259, than it was in 2006. His runs were down as well -- from 80 to 46. And that, too, is a function of where he batted, to a degree. He had four more home runs, but 21 fewer doubles.

His late surge -- it followed a 15-day trip to the disabled list -- may have worked against his hope to return in that it underscored his need for rest.

His throwing was inconsistent but more successful, in terms of percentage, than that of the other catchers.

Whether to bring him back is a dilemma. Lo Duca wants to stay, but while he is quite popular with some teammates, he is not as popular with others. Perhaps as a result, the club seems lukewarm about him. But who is there to take his place? Age and need for time off are issues that could be addressed if the Mets brought in a young left-handed-hitting catcher of promise, but that will prove difficult.

Sele, 37: 34 games (no starts), 53 2/3 innings, 3-2 record and a 5.37 ERA.

Willie Randolph didn't trust Sele as he had trusted Darren Oliver in 2006, and the lack of use and extended layoffs undermined Sele. The Mets will find another long reliever for next season.

Jose Valentin, 38: 51 games, 166 at-bats, .302 on-base percentage, .373 slugging percentage and a .241 batting average.

In the unlikely event Valentin returns, it won't be under the terms of the $4.3 million salary provided for in the option for 2008 included in his contract. Even an invitation to Spring Training seems unlikely with Castillo, Easley and Ruben Gotay already in Valentin's way.

His absence will be felt; it was felt last summer. Many have tied Reyes' decline to the presence of Rickey Henderson. Valentin was a quite positive influence on Reyes and he played in less than one-third of the Mets games. One of the reasons Randolph inserted Valentin at second base in 2006 was to help keep Reyes in the game.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.