Derek Lowe rejected the Mets three-year deal.  Here’s why I think they should not make another offer any time soon.

The Mets are in the market for starting pitching and at the end of 2008 offered free agent Derek Lowe a three-year, $36 million offer.  This was a great idea.  Offer Lowe, who seems to be their primary target, a deal lower in both years and total salary than what was expected at the end of the season.  That strategy worked pretty well with Francisco Rodriguez, after all.  Who could have expected the Mets would have gotten him on the three-year, $37 million contract that they did?

Unlike with K-Rod, there seems to be several teams that are in the mix for Lowe.  This offer should smoke out any interested parties.  Imagine you are the Braves, who have already missed out on AJ Burnett and Jake Peavy this year, and you let Lowe go to the Mets for this deal.  Wouldn’t you kick yourself for not topping this offer, just by a little bit?  This seems like a bottom-barrel offer designed to see who the serious players for Lowe are.  There’s no sense believing Lowe’s agent, the nefarious Scott Boras, when he claims that he has undefined offers from numerous different teams.  Instead, the Mets are setting the terms of this negotiation.

I’m not big on bringing Derek Lowe aboard.  While I recognize how effective and reliable he has been in the past seven years, I just can’t get past the fact that he will be 36 in June.  I would rather that the Mets target a starter in his 20s than mid-30s.  Additionally, I worry that Lowe might find the Mets’ infield defense to be a bit of a problem with his extreme groundball tendencies.  For his career, Lowe has averaged 3.32 GB/FB, which means he needs a pretty strong infield defense behind him in order to be successful.

I’m going to use the plus/minus stats from Bill James Online to check out the Mets infield defense.  The first number is his enhanced total, basically a raw score on his fielding ability.  The higher the positive number, the better the fielder the player is and obviously you don’t want to be a negative number.  And the second number is where he ranks among fielders at his position.

Enhanced Rank
Carlos Delgado -15 33
Luis Castillo -14 33
David Wright 3 16
Jose Reyes -2 21

Now, last year was a particularly poor fielding year for Reyes, who can probably be expected to improve defensively in 2009.  But Delgado and Castillo are notoriously poor fielders and if anything will only be worse next season.  For a pitcher like Lowe, this could be disastrous.

While I don’t think Lowe should be the Mets’ main target among starting pitchers, I guess I could be happy with a three-year deal.  If the club budges from its initial proposal to Lowe, I hope they increase the dollar amount rather than offer more years.

But judging from the team’s reaction in the wake of the Billy Wagner deal, it seems like they are hesitant to offer the additional years.  K-Rod has vesting options in his contract based on appearances in the final year of his contract.  And he is a decade younger than Lowe.

It will be curious to see how Lowe and Boras react to this proposal.  When the Mets made their offer to Rodriguez, he signed a few days later.  I can’t imagine any scenario under which Boras does the same.  So, why we have a pretty good idea how one side will react, we have no idea what the Mets will do.

Will they wait to see if he gets other offers?  Will they make a counter-offer since Lowe has essentially rejected their opening bid?  Will they move on to other pitchers?  Or will they basically sit and do nothing?

One thing working against the Mets is that their second choice, Oliver Perez, is also represented by Boras.  This may be a conflict of interest for the agent, but also makes it impossible for the Mets to plan any covert negotiations and play their top two targets against each other.  With K-Rod, the Mets acted as if they were just as happy to land either Kerry Wood or Brian Fuentes at reduced deals as they were to get Rodriguez.  That gambit won’t work as Boras can advise Perez not to accept a lower offer while a higher offer is on the table for his other client.

So, right now the ball is back in the Mets’ court.  It will be interesting to see exactly how they act now.  I’m hoping that they do nothing or put Lowe on the back burner and investigate other options.  Now would be a good time to kick the tires on Ben Sheets, if for no other reason than to turn up the heat on Lowe and Boras.