Now that the Mets have both a new general manager and manager in place, the brain trust can begin making preparations for the 2011 team. While it is widely rumored that the club has very little money to spend on free agents, one position they will have to address is lefty reliever out of the bullpen. The Mets have already lost Hisanori Takahashi to free agency and one of Sandy Alderson’s first moves was to outright Raul Valdes to Buffalo.
For years, the Mets have relied on Pedro Feliciano to be their primary LOOGY out of the pen. Feliciano has generally done a good job in this role and has been extremely valuable combating Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, in particular. Lifetime, he has held Utley to a .222 AVG and in 38 PA versus Howard, Feliciano has tamed the Phillies slugger to the tune of a .542 OPS.
So, it would seem to be a no-brainer bringing back Feliciano, 34, in 2011. However, Feliciano made $2.9 million last year in his final season of arbitration and will undoubtedly be looking for both more money and more years in a contract this time around.
FanGraphs pegged Feliciano’s 2010 season as being worth $3.2 million, his highest value since establishing his career-high with a $3.2 million 2006. So, while he earned his salary last year, chances are the Mets received the top end of his value and giving him a contract worth $3 million or more is probably not in the team’s best interest.
We also have to examine Feliciano’s usage in the past few seasons. A favorite of former manager Jerry Manuel, Feliciano led the National League in games the past three years, including last year when he set a Mets franchise record by appearing in 92 games. In fact, Feliciano holds the top three spots in club history in games pitched, all of which happened from 2008-10. And his 78 games in 2007 is tied for ninth-most in the team’s record book.
Feliciano leads the majors in games pitched the last four years with 344. Only one other player in baseball in that span has even reached 300 games pitched and Matt Guerrier checks in with 302. Former Mets Aaron Heilman (299) and Heath Bell (290) also place in the top 10.
So, we have a pitcher who has been ridden hard the past four seasons, who has never turned in a season worth what he is likely to be seeking on the open market and one who will turn 35 during the next baseball year.
Add it all up and it seems likely that Alderson will wave goodbye to Feliciano, too. It will be sad to see Feliciano wearing another team’s jersey next year after performing so well for so long with the Mets. But it will be the right choice. Perhaps a heartless one, but one that will help push the Mets forward.
Now the question becomes: who can replace Feliciano? Pat Misch has displayed no great ability to get LHB out in his career, with a lifetime .804 OPS allowed to lefties in the majors. The free agent market includes the typical cast of has-beens and never-weres. You will hear Joe Beimel’s name trotted out as a possible replacement, but he has been used pretty hard himself, with 296 appearances the past four seasons.
We should not be surprised if the Mets bring back Valdes, who showed the ability to strike guys out last year, even if the rest of his numbers left a little something to be desired. He had a 4.91 ERA last year, but both his xFIP (4.69) and FIP (4.31) suggested he pitched better than his results.
The biggest plus for Valdes is his strikeout rate, which checked in last year at 8.59 in 58.2 IP. But his BB/9 was a poor 4.14, which led to a 1.47 WHIP. That is not a particularly good number, but it beat the 1.53 WHIP Feliciano put up last year, another reason to let the veteran walk.
Valdes also has two other things going for him. First, he is pitching well in Winter Ball in the Dominican, with a 3.63 ERA in five games, including four starts. In 22.1 IP, he has 25 Ks and 6 BB. The main red flag is the 4 HR allowed. Second, Valdes will be a minimum wage player, a fact that should not be overlooked as the Mets appear to be in penny-pinching mode for the 2011 season.