All of which begs the question...
Why are the Mets trading R.A. Dickey? He just won the Cy Young and they're giving him away for prospects.
--Mark S., Purchase, N.Y.
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In exchange for Dickey, the Mets are about to receive a high-ceiling catcher under team control for at least the next six seasons, potentially giving them their first elite production from the position since the days of Mike Piazza. Power-hitting catchers rank among the rarest commodities in baseball. If d'Arnaud comes even close to reaching his offensive ceiling, the Mets will finally have one.
Throw in the fact that they're receiving Syndergaard, a right-hander with top-of-the-rotation potential, and the deal becomes a steal on paper for the Mets. All they're giving up is a 38-year-old pitcher and a slap-hitting catcher.
Of course that 38-year-old pitcher is Dickey, who won the Cy Young Award this season, endeared himself to fans and showed no signs of slowing. Given that he almost exclusively throws a knuckleball, it is possible that Dickey can continue to pitch effectively well into his 40s.
But Dickey enjoyed a career year in 2012 and the Mets did not even sniff the playoffs. With no major roster upgrades expected around him, he could win 30 games next year and still not guide the Mets to the postseason. By the time New York is ready to compete, Dickey may no longer be an elite pitcher. His trade value could crater.
So GM Sandy Alderson sold almost unfathomably high on Dickey, infusing two elite prospects into a farm system that suddenly looks quite formidable. The risk is that Dickey goes out and posts another Cy-caliber season in 2013.
But again, would that have been enough to push the Mets into the playoffs? Probably not.
David Wright and Jason Bay both deferred a bunch of money to lower the payroll next season. How much of it will the Mets be able to spend on free agents, trades, etc.?
--Lani S., West Islip, N.Y.
It's an interesting question without an easy answer. Wright not only accepted a 2013 base salary that is $5 million less than he would have made under his old contract, but he also deferred $3 million of it to future seasons. Bay, meanwhile, reportedly deferred $15 million of the $21.1 million the Mets owe him in salary, buyout and prorated signing bonus money.
In theory, then, the Mets should have $23 million more to spend in 2013 (not counting whatever salary discrepancy results from the Dickey trade, which figures to be something of a wash). But that's what's called a "cash" figure, which is not how Major League Baseball calculates things.
In determining team payrolls, MLB factors in future-year buyouts and all deferred moneys. So Wright will cost $11 million against the 2014 payroll instead of $8 million, Bay will cost $21.1 million instead of $6 million, and Johan Santana will cost $31 million instead of $25.5 million due to his 2014 buyout.
Given those salaries, along with guaranteed contracts for Jon Niese, Frank Francisco and Buck, arbitration raises for three others and roughly league-minimum salaries for the rest of the roster, the Mets are already up to more than $90 million in payroll, according to MLB standards. Based on that number, they have less than $5 million to spend before they equal their 2012 payroll.
It's important to note that they will not actually be laying out that much cash due to all the deferred money -- that's just how MLB calculates it. So the Mets do stand to have extra flexibility on top of a more traditional payroll increase, though the final numbers are entirely up to them. They will not go on a spending spree just because they deferred some money to future seasons.
In other words, expect the Mets to invest in moderately-priced free agents to fill out their outfield, bullpen and perhaps their starting rotation, bringing them to a payroll close to -- or just over -- $100 million. But do not expect anything more than that.
Will the Mets give Kirk Nieuwenhuis another chance at center field, or do you think they will pick up some reject from another team?
--Arnie S., Boynton Beach, Fla.
Now that Andres Torres is back with the Giants and Anthony Gose was not included in the Dickey trade, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that anyone supplants Nieuwenhuis as the default starter in center.
The Mets are still in the hunt for a right-handed hitting outfielder, so if they sign one with center-field experience -- Scott Hairston, for example -- they could establish a platoon between him and Nieuwenhuis. But that would also require Lucas Duda to win the everyday job in left field, without needing a platoon partner himself.
The Mets have never envisioned Nieuwenhuis as much more than a center field stopgap, holding down the position until Matt den Dekker, Brandon Nimmo and some of the organization's other up-the-middle talents are ready to contribute. But right now, that's exactly what they need, so Nieuwenhuis may very well be roaming center come Opening Day.
Do you think there's any chance the Mets would consider bringing Jon Rauch back? Bar a few bad outings at the end of the season, he had a good run when the Mets fell off after the break, and posted the best opponent's batting average of his career.
--Sean K., Portland, Ore.
There were indeed stretches when Rauch, who finished with a 3.59 ERA, was the team's most reliable reliever. But I suspect the Mets are looking for more of a clean break from a bullpen that ranked dead last in the league in ERA. Given the option, they will look elsewhere to fill their bullpen holes.
I was recently checking the 40-man roster and came across the name Anthony Recker. He has an Albert Pujols-type swing by simply looking at his build. What are the odds he's the Opening Day starting catcher?
--Jose C., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Let's take it easy on the Pujols comps for now.
There's a good chance the Mets start d'Arnaud off in the Minors to delay his service time clock from ticking into motion. If that happens, Buck and Recker will probably be the two catchers on the Opening Day roster, with Recker filling a reserve role. There's no longer much point in the Mets acquiring a free-agent catcher, as they were considering before the Dickey trade. Owner of a career .810 Minor Leagues OPS, Recker ranks higher on the depth chart than Mike Nickeas, who recently re-signed on a Minor League deal.
What do you think about Johan Santana moving into the bullpen? It would help save his arm and add someone to a bullpen that was pretty bad last year. If not at the beginning of the season, how about when Zack Wheeler comes up?
--Tyler S., Providence, R.I.
Santana is exactly the type of starting pitcher that teams don't consider moving to the bullpen. Well into his 30s, the lefty has a history of arm trouble that requires him to spend extra time each week on his between-starts routine. Putting him in the bullpen, where he would pitch on a sporadic schedule with little time to warm before outings, is the last thing his surgically-repaired shoulder needs.
Not to mention Santana was one of the best pitchers in baseball from April through early June, and is a former Cy Young Award-winner. Wouldn't it be prudent of the Mets to see if he can recapture more of that magic now that he is entering his third post-surgery season?
With the signing of David Wright, what does that do for the marketability of Wilmer Flores as trade bait? Without another true position, Wright would be technically blocking Flores at third base for the foreseeable future.
--Peter B., Meriden, Conn.
If the Mets are convinced that Flores is a third baseman and not an outfielder, they would have to consider trading him at some point -- but there's no sense in doing so now, right after the first productive season of his professional career. His stock may not be as low as it was a year ago, but it's also not particularly high. Flores will need to show some consistency before teams start believing in his prospect status again.
What's the future with the Mets for Josh Satin? Is he still in the picture, or will he be traded or released?
--Ray B., Denver, Colo.
Despite Satin's strong track record of gap-to-gap hitting in the Minors, the Mets did not protect him prior to the Rule 5 Draft, and no other team claimed him. No one claimed him off waivers during the season, either, which tells you all you need to know about Satin's stock -- he's nothing more than injury insurance should something happen to Ike Davis.