Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Hiring Jim Duquette to be the permanent GM is a clear sign that Mets' ownership will accept a year of true rebuilding. With Oakland refugees Art Howe and Rick Peterson leading the coaching staff, New York appears positioned to require only one more season at the back of the NL East before a relative quick reassertion of power due to the financial advantages of playing in the nation's biggest market. The edge of an impressive set of top prospects reached New York in 2003 with the rookie seasons of Jae Weong Seo, Aaron Heilman, Jason L. Phillips, and prized shortstop Jose Reyes. Now Mets fans can watch that quartet mature as they wait for David Wright, Justin Huber, Matt Peterson, and Scott Kazmir to finish their respective minor league apprenticeships.
Somewhat surprisingly, New York's major league roster isn't too bad. As all three primary position players should be fully recovered from injuries by spring, Reyes is set at shortstop, hitting at the top of the lineup, and Cliff Floyd and Mike Piazza should respectively occupy left field and first base while hitting 3rd and 4th. Piazza will begin the year at catcher, with Jason Phillips playing first base, however he should shift to first base once he sets the all-time record for homers by a catcher. Vance Wilson returns as an excellent backup who possesses the skills to start for many teams.
Ty Wigginton, seemingly an afterthought following the success of Seo and Phillips, as well as Reyes' promotion, acquitted himself admirably at third base. While likely not a long-term solution, he can handle either third or second base.
The one truly abhorrent move of the Duquette administration thus far was the decision that resulted in Oakland claiming both Marco Scutaro and Matt Watson off waivers. Neither player probably will develop into a star, but both look more prepared to start in 2004 than current young Mets Danny Garcia and Prentice Redman. At least Redman should receive another year of seasoning, and hopefully New York will sign a short-term option in the middle infield, thereby giving Garcia one more year to develop.
Unfortunately, the outfield situation is far more complicated. Cliff Floyd is an excellent player when healthy, but Roger Cedeno is maddeningly inconsistent, and Timo Perez played worse than Cedeno last year. With prospects like Garcia and Redman nearly ready for major league starting jobs, any excess cash should be spent on a quality outfielder. Mike Cameron looks like a very good fit given the team's need for solid defense behind the young pitchers. If they can move Cedeno in a deal for Bobby Higginson, hopefully a change of scenery will help resurrect the latter player's career.
Similarly, a two-year deal for someone like Fernando Vina wouldn't be a terrible idea. If Garcia doesn't improve in a return to AAA, Vina can remain, or David Wright's emergence could push Wigginton to second base in a couple years. Re-signing Rey Sanchez also would be a fine move, improving the infield defense to aid the young groundball pitchers. Still, as long as New York can field Reyes, Phillips, Floyd, and Piazza, they should remain at least somewhat competitive.
The pitching staff worries me a lot more than the offense in many ways, however the rotation isn't terrible assuming Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel, and Al Leiter pitch effectively despite their increasingly inconsistency. Jae Seo and Aaron Heilman at least provide hope for the future, so I don't see a desperate need for another starter. Providing big league innings for Seo and Heilman is far more important than winning a couple extra games in 2004, particularly with Kazmir and Peterson on the way, and guys like Jeremy Griffiths capable of spot starts.
New York's bullpen may be the biggest problem here. Dave Weathers, Pedro Feliciano, and Dan Wheeler only look like acceptable middle relievers, not a team corps capable of ending many games. Mike Stanton also doesn't look like a stopper.
I rarely advise teams break the bank for a closer, but with one of the top relievers in the game on the market, I see no reason not to splurge, particularly with several major contracts now off the books. Keith Foulke is an excellent all-around reliever, again proved himself as a closer with the Athletics, and even can pitch multiple innings when necessary. He also should be very comfortable with Rick Peterson, so Foulke should lead the Mets' priority list once free agency begins. Awarding Foulke a four-year deal in the $32M range does not seem like a waste of money in any way. Of course, given the current market, Duquette may be able to sign him to an even cheaper deal.
With Foulke secured at the end of games, Stanton, Weathers, Feliciano, and Wheeler suddenly look like a solid and balanced setup corps. When healthy, Scott Strickland and Grant Roberts hold an edge on Jason Anderson, Jaime Cerda, Orber Moreno, and Edwin Almonte for the final bullpen spots. I didn't expect New York to possess this much decent depth in pitching, but this simply isn't a bad team. Their minor league system should help replenish the relatively depleted star power at the major league level, making almost any deal of prospects-for-veterans quite foolish.
Jim Duquette and Art Howe are quite capable of leading the Mets back into playoff contention in time for the 2005 season. While their moves this winter may not hold a candle to those made by the Yankees, Foulke and Cameron both are excellent building blocks for a championship team. As long as Duquette adds enough veterans to maintain a solid defense, doesn't rush the development of the youngsters, and keeps future stars like Reyes and Heilman, I envision a return to prominence for New York in the very near future.
Danny Garcia, 23, 2B-R
I hope Garcia' poor September showing doesn't lead the Mets to look outside the organization for a second baseman as he still should enjoy a bright future. Despite a two-level jump from A-ball, Garcia maintained his batting average and speed skills, and if his plate discipline returns as we expect, he could give the Mets a decent player to pair with Jose Reyes at the top of the order. Of course, Garcia's lack of power might keep him from gaining significant support within the organization, making him a risky player to acquire this winter due to his uncertain future.
Consistently solid control makes Griffith the only rookie starter in the system apparently capable of emerging as a quality pitcher for the Mets in 2004. While he doesn't always dominate opponents, the relatively few number of walks and homers he allows could keep his qualitative numbers quite low in a larger sample size, particularly if the team defense improves. Griffiths likely will enter spring training behind at least Aaron Heilman in the battle for the fifth starter's job, but Griffiths will merit a long like in the very near future. I suspect his poor K:BB ratio and ERA this season will cause most of your competitors to pass on him, however keeping him in mind in deeper leagues, especially those with several Ultra rounds, is a wise idea given his immediate upside.
Moreno always profiled as a future closer, and if the Mets wisely spend their payroll room on offensive upgrades, he stands a great chance of opening next season as their top reliever. His outright dominance of the International League nicely demonstrates his upside, making Moreno at least a good bet to break camp in the New York bullpen in some capacity. The biggest question for Moreno is remaining healthy for a second straight year after missing all of 2001 and 2002. If he accomplishes that feat while maintaining his rediscovered skills, expect him to approach double-digit value as a middle reliever or $20 as a closer.
Edwin Almonte, 26, RH Reliever
Essentially included as a throw-in with Royce Ring in the Roberto Alomar deal, Almonte managed a decent 2.55 ERA on a 14:6 K:BB in 17.2 IP at Norfolk before bombing in his first cup-of-coffee. Of course, I expected he sulked through much of the year since he deserved a roster spot from the beginning of the season after compiling a 2.24 ERA and 26 Saves on a 56:12 K:BB in 60.1 innings at Charlotte a year ago. As Chicago unfairly sent him back to the minors after that outstanding performance, hopefully Almonte rebounds from this largely lost season. If the Mets improve their infield defense as expected, hopefully more of his groundballs will turn into outs, thereby allowing him to hold a roster spot throughout much of the year. While I don't expect him to compete to close in New York, he could emerge fairly quickly as a useful fantasy player.
While DePastino is a perfectly decent guy to keep in the upper minors, his lack of power and plate discipline severely limits the likelihood of him seeing much more time in the majors. Even if he earns another cup-of-coffee at some point, he certainly isn't someone to target for fantasy teams.
The primary return from the Jeromy Burnitz trade, Diaz scalded the ball over the last few weeks of the season after his acquisition from Los Angeles. He appears capable of handling any infield position defensively, and while his plate discipline doesn't impress me, his power potential should allow him to win the Mets' second base job by 2005. Of course, skipping high-A leaves him on a questionable development track, and I don't know that Diaz fits wonderfully in New York, making him no more than a respectable minor league pick in the spring.
Tom's little brother finally reached the majors despite spending the last two seasons in the independent leagues and never demonstrated much offensive skill beyond AA. While the nepotism involved in him reaching the majors is mildly troubling, a one-time September call-up at least is fairly benign. Congratulations to Mike on debuting in the big leagues, and now I never expect to see him at this level again.
The Mets acquired the converted position player for Graeme Lloyd this summer, however Hill apparently lost all command upon his promotion from Wichita to Kansas City a year ago. Even slotting him at AA next year might be a mistake, and he certainly doesn't belong anywhere near fantasy rosters until his skills improve.
The emergence of Jason Phillips as an offensive threat this year means that New York can let Huber develop at a slower pace. While he owns good patience and power potential, he continues to develop as a receiver and likely will benefit from a slowed path to the majors. If the Mets give Huber a full year at Binghamton followed by a season of AAA, expect him to rank among the game's elite prospects entering the 2006 season. However, barring major upheaval on the Mets, Huber isn't a player you need to own in 2004.
The 1999 38th round pick emerged as an intriguing process this year as his offensive development gives the Mets a fourth catcher who should start in the majors at some point in his career. Of course, his weak plate discipline means that he lacks Justin Huber's upside, and only an injury or trade at the big league level will create an opening for Jacobs next year, suggesting we should wait to see if he can echo these stats before considering him in any league.
Mattox's biggest problem probably will be finding a big league opportunity on the Mets' increasingly crowded pitching staff. While he isn't particularly development and could move to the bullpen at some point, he currently looks like a solid starting prospect, and he could develop an even higher ceiling if he establishes consistent mechanics. Only New York's starting depth keeps me from recommending him at this time, although he easily could emerge as a prospect ready for the majors by the end of next season.
Peterson looked like an intriguing sleeper a year ago, but now he ranks with the Mets' best prospects after an impressive year of development. Of course, his terrible command at Binghamton certainly concerns me, and expecting him to reach the majors sooner than next fall is a mistake. Peterson is a good long-term prospect who could contribute in New York in the relatively near future, but I simply see no need to target him in the spring given his relatively low profile.
The younger brother of Pirates' outfielder Tike, Prentice possesses impressive sped, decent plate discipline, and intriguing power potential. Given another year at Norfolk, he could emerge as a potential five-category contributor if he continues cutting his strikeout totals. If not for the likelihood that the Mets will overpay for a couple of veteran outfielders this winter, leaving Redman in a bench role, his upside otherwise would merit a high pick in many minor league drafts.
Acquired as the centerpiece of the Roberto Alomar deal, Ring should reach the majors sometime next summer, giving the Mets another solid lefty reliever. I don't expect him to close in New York any time soon, however as long as he maintains strong skills during his months at AAA, Ring likely will merit consideration as a free agent as soon as the Mets promote him.
The minor league free agent re-signed with the Mets last month, and he should receive another chance to succeed in the majors next year with a little luck. Roach owns solid all-around skills, especially consistent command, making him a valuable AAAA pitcher to keep in the organization. Unfortunately, until he finds regular innings in the big leagues somewhere, he won't warrant any roto consideration.
Strange's somewhat bizarre slump after reaching the upper minors now extend through four seasons, so the Mets wisely decided to shift him to relief work this year. While he obviously didn't impress anyone, he demonstrated sufficient control as a starter to keep us from doubting his ability to convert to the bullpen. You certainly shouldn't consider him for your fantasy team at this time, but Strange still should enjoy a moderately productive career over the latter half of the decade.
Although Watson ranks as a decent prospect who at least could contribute as a backup on most teams, the Mets appear to prefer to overpay for veteran bench players. Unfortunately, as Oakland claimed Watson off waivers last month, he likely isn't seeing much playing time in the majors any time soon. He could surprise if given the necessary opportunity, but he isn't a good short-term option in any fantasy league.
Tommy John surgery in 2002 halted Yates' march to the majors, forcing him to spend this season rebuilding his arm strength. However, the Mets' more significant need for relief help and their starting depth should send him back to the pen next year, and if regains his command, Yates may emerge as a closer by the end of the year. Of course, he likely will spend the year in middle relief, making him no more than an endgame option if he breaks camp in the majors, however you should monitor his progress since he impressively dominated much of the minors before his injury.
While Zamora isn't a particularly dominant reliever, his decent control will earn him a look in the majors sometime in the next few years. Of course, like most any AAAA lefty, he isn't a viable roto option until he proves he can remain effective over several big league outings.
Scott Kazmir, 19, LH Starter
While I'd prefer to hold my recommendation to roster Kazmir until after he amasses a season or two of 150+ innings, he may reach the majors without accumulating 300 minor league innings. His domination of A-ball this year will allow him to move to AA Binghamton in 2004, and while he won't see the Mets next year barring a big league disaster, I wouldn't be shocked to see him break camp in the majors in 2005. Nevertheless, exercise extreme caution when considering Kazmir since his short-term future is cloudy at best, particularly considering his growing control problems.
Given Wright's excellent plate discipline, power potential, speed skills, and defensive acumen, he may rank as the best all-around offensive prospect in baseball. With only Ty Wigginton blocking him in New York, Wright should earn a cup-of-coffee next fall before displacing Wigginton no later than the middle of 2005. Nothing in his skills keeps me from agreeing with scouting comparisons of Wright with Scott Rolen, and if he remains available in your league, he might merit the first pick in any minor league draft in the spring.
The high ranking of Moreno and Garcia is based on the likelihood that both players will find significant roles in the majors next season. Neither is a particularly strong long-term option, and even Griffiths appears blocked by Aaron Heilman right now. Of course, the upside of players like Wright and Redman help compensate for the questionable AAA talent, but with Reyes and Heilman graduating to the majors, the next major wave of talent is at least a year away.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Minnesota Twins(Restovich, Mauer, Crain, Balfour, Bartlett)
1. Orber Moreno, RP
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