2010 Minor League Free Agents to Consider: Part I
Compiling depth at the big league level has never been one of Omar Minaya’s strong suits. To his credit, Angel Pagan, Gary Sheffield, and Fernando Tatis have proven to be solid finds. Perhaps the Mets would have boasted one of the stronger benches over the last few years had Omar not mismanaged the starting lineup to begin with?
As I have illustrated on this blog many times before, Omar is incapable of managing this team on the margins. Usually, my criticism is confined to players who receive significant playing time, and in some cases cost millions in dollars when better options can be had for pennies on the dollar: The Mets spent well over $10 combined per season to pay Brian Schneider, Tim Redding, Alex Cora, Cory Sullivan, and Scott Schoenweis back in the day while failing to cut ties with Livan Hernandez until August.
But the Mets have also failed to sure up their AAA pipeline as well. You know, those third-string roster fillers that usually end up starting for weeks at a time for the Mets? In 2009 for instance, with the Mets outfield in shambles, in addition to Sullivan, the Mets relied on Jeremy Reed for 161 at-bats, and doled out nearly 91 to an overmatched Fernando Martinez, unnecessarily starting his arbitration clock. Not to mention guys such as Ramon Martinez, Anderson Hernandez, Angel Berroa, and Elemers Dessens. Buffalo correspondingly marched on to a 56-87 record, with a stud-laden roster that included Mike Lamb (.669 AAA OPS.), Andy Green (.709), Javier Castillo (.664), Emil Brown (.655), and a formidable catching duo of Robinson Cancel and Rene Rivera (.631/.675, respectively).
What seems like a minor, luck-influenced misstep is in fact a recurrent trade with Omar. remember, this is the same team that gave 125 at-bats to Carlos Gomez two years ago, who is yet to develop into a replacement level hitter, and god-knows how much to Marlon Anderson, Damion Easley, and David Newhan.
Fortunately, a solid AAA player can be had for about $150,000. Signing minor league free agents and other under-the-radar role players is like going on a shopping binge at the dollar store. If the Mets can find a Billy-Mays-like pitchman to convince anyone to play in Buffalo, they could very well strike gold.
The recently published list of minor league free agents contains no one eye-popping, but there a few names the Mets should strongly consider. Numero uno:
Chris Shelton: A 33rd round pick of the Pirates back in 2001, Shelton got his first real shot in the big leagues as a 25 year-old with the Tigers in 2005, posting a .299/.360/.510 line in 388 at-bats. He lived up to his reputation as a breakout candidate for 2006- for about two weeks. In the first 13 games of the season, Shelton hit nine homeruns. He naturally “struggled” the rest of the way, but still hit .273/.340/.466 overall in 373 at-bats. According to UZR, among qualified first basemen, Shelton was the third-best defensively in all of baseball, first in the American League.
Inexplicably, Shelton spent all of 2007 with the Tigers AAA team. After being traded to the Rangers before the 2008 season, Shelton has received just 103 combined big league at-bats. He has been hitting the snot out of the ball in AAA since, and played third base for most of 2009. Plus, he can even be an emergency backstop.
If the Mets retain Fernando Tatis, who is their main right-handed pinch hitter, there is no obvious room for Shelton. If Wright goes down, Tatis could conceivably play third for a few weeks, and Shawn Bowman is considered an excellent fielder with a little pop. However, if Tatis asks for $2-$3 million, I would let him walk. Across the diamond, if the Mets decide to start Daniel Murphy, he could back him up, or complement him in a platoon situation (although Nick Evans is a more appealing option on both fronts given his age).
Still, Shelton is a potentially vastly undervalued asset. At worst, he is a right-handed Chris Carter.