With the Winter Meetings set to start today, I thought I would take a few moments to write about what the Mets need and my predictions about what will get accomplished.
Last year was a dream. The pitching came together. The supposed favorites Nationals fell apart. Every other team went into some state of rebuild and the Mets, out of recent character, took advantage by pushing their chips to the middle of the table by making a bunch of deadline moves. Those were moves of a team thinking bigger than just a playoff berth. The trades for Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Tyler Clippard and Yoenis Cespedes (and the non-trade for Carlos Gomez) were transactions brought on by opportunity.
You know how the story ended. The Mets ran away with the NL East division, went to Tinseltown and won the division series in 5 games and then took on what is supposed to be their biggest rivals to glory, the Cubs, and swept them under the rug like it was no big thing. They waited almost a week and a half and met a team that had a date with destiny and lost the World Series in 5 games to the Kansas City Royals.
But make no mistake, if the Mets go into next season banking on a similar script playing itself out, they are kidding themselves. Let’s first assume a few things:
- The Phillies and Braves are still rebuilding- Yes, this is absolutely true. The Braves are only scheduled to re-enter contention in 2017 when they move into their downtown digs, so until then they will be trying to maximize the assets they currently have on their roster and hope that the return will make them competitive soon. They traded away the best defensive shortstop in the major leagues in Andrelton Simmons and likely will send Shelby Miller in a trade for more talent sometime between this week and the trade deadline. While it doesn’t mean they will contend in 2017, they will have restocked the cupboard in a major way by the time they do move into the new stadium and atleast entice the fan base with a promise that better days are ahead.
The Phillies are also planning on sitting out the playoffs for another year. They have a tougher road but they have some talent coming down the pike. Next year the Phils could have up to 4 prospects in their starting rotation by the time season ends and JP Crawford, considered by some to be the best shortstop prospect in the minor leagues, will likely get the call up. They got a nice haul in the Cole Hamels trade that may or may not have come one season too late, and they finally fired GM Ruben Amaro after the media and fan base practically begged for it. The Phillies signed a major television deal and can throw dollars when it begins to make sense, but that won’t be next year unless all their kids play out of their minds.
- The Marlins will be a question mark all season- It depends on where you stand on reports that the Marlins are not listening to trade offers for Jose Fernandez or the Marlins are talking to teams like the Dodgers on their ace. One thing we do know, he’s likely gone once he enters free agency and the Marlins have never been ones to be shy about trading their best players if they feel they have no shot to sign him (see Cabrera, Miguel). But I don’t think the Marlins trade him this year as his value won’t be as high as next season so let’s assume that Fernandez will remain on the team. Giancarlo Stanton will return to the line up and the Marlins are reportedly trying to sign Dee Gordon to a contract extension as well. All of the pieces that made the Marlins a sexy pick to usurp the Nationals will make them, again, candidates to contend for a NL East crown.
- The Nationals will have a manager who knows his shit- And by that, Dusty Baker won’t shy away from internal conflict and strife. He managed a dugout with Jeff Kent (noted asshole) and Barry Bonds (also noted asshole) so Jonathan Papelbon and his ridiculousness will be just another walk in the park for Dusty. Yes, he has his own weaknesses, he’s not the best strategist. He doesn’t have the quickest hook with pitchers and may come from the old school in terms of managing while the rest of the league has adapted to a more stats-savvy style. But let’s understand one thing: he’s being brought in as, and allow me to throw a football term at you to best deliver the point, a game manager. He’s gonna Trent Dilfer the hell out of the Nationals. Their current roster, even without Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister will still have some of the best everyday and every fifth day talent in the majors. The same way they were supposed to run away with the division last year, they should be able to stick around similarly.
So if some of the irregularities of last season correct themselves, what can the Mets do and what do the Mets need to make sure they keep their division? Let’s consider what they need first:
- Outfield depth- This completely depends on the health of Juan Lagares’ throwing shoulder which does not, I repeat, does NOT need surgery. I’m not repeating myself for kicks. The fact is, he went from a Gold Glove award winner two seasons ago to a late game defensive sub for the Mets last season. Its his offense that has always been a point of contention for the team, but its his defense that many point to when analyzing how far he has fallen. So the Mets will look at left handed center fielders who can platoon with Lagares. That means forget Dustin Fowler. The Mets may also be out of the running for Gerardo Parra but that all depends on how teams evaluate him based on his second half. With Conforto set to be an everyday left fielder and Curtis Granderson entrenched at right, the Mets will certainly evaluate what their options are in the minors if they can’t get a major leaguer to platoon with Lagares and hit righties.
- Second base- The Mets have said they won’t hesitate to give the job to Dilson Herrera but their actions say differently. The fact is, the Mets are hoping that Ben Zobrist agrees to sign with them, even going so far as to guarantee the fourth year in the contract , a must if you believe the reports on what it will take to sign the valued Zobrist. He’s basically a much better version of Daniel Murphy defensively and can replicate Murphy’s bat (which is slightly better). He also plays multiple positions on the diamond which makes his value even greater when you consider that David Wright’s health is a toss- up. The feeling is that Herrera can play second base but will need more seasoning at the plate and he doesn’t have the contact ability of Zobrist.
- Relief depth- Outside of Jeurys Familia, the Mets didn’t have reliable options in the bullpen and if baseball learned anything from the World Champion Royals, its that having an elite bullpen can mask other areas of the game. The Royals won with a contact approach at the plate, excellent defense, and a lockdown bullpen that shortened games to six innings. While the Mets don’t have Wade Davis at the backend (and history says no one has EVER had the past two seasons version of Wade Davis),
the Mets do have a guy that can capably handle the closer duties. The Mets still need a reliable 7th and 8th inning guy. Addison Reed will be back and will fill in either the 7th or 8th inning roles. But his role will depend on who the Mets go after in either the trade market OR in the free agent market. While I don’t think the Mets will trade one of their big guys for an elite arm which likely takes them out of the running for an Aroldis Chapman), the Mets, if willing to take on some dollars may be able to get a David Robertson from the Whitesox OR a Will Smith from the Brewers (depends on if they think they are sellers). Will Smith is an especially enticing option as he would be your lefty specialist as well. The Mets will need to spruce up their options and get some established veteran in there to help solidify the late innings. The Mets tendered troubled former closer Jenry Mejia a contract (it was a low-risk move for a guy who has the stuff in his arm but very little in his head) but he will miss the first 100 games thanks to a suspension he still has to sit out. With Craig Kimbrel and K-Rod already traded, the market will be thinning on trades to make for elite relievers so if the Mets are indeed swimming in those waters, its getting shallow really quickly.
4. Offense- The game plan for now is to sign Zobrist who can duplicate Murphy’s bat and give you better infield defense, and hope that Conforto and a full season of David Wright (yeah right!) along with the continued resurgence of Curtis Granderson will equal the offense the Mets got. But for a full season the Mets will have to hope for players to hit a ton. Notice I didn’t include Travis d’Arnaud, I did so for a reason. Expecting him to play 130 games is foolish. The fact is, catching is taxing enough for any player, but expecting one who has the injury history of d’Arnaud to do it is beyond foolish. If the Mets stay pat and don’t make a single move to upgrade the offense, the Mets are banking on the health of Wright and d’Arnaud which are not sure things (in fact I would go so far as to say that every move to upgrade the team offensively should be made with the caveat that you won’t get full seasons from either) and the progression of Conforto as an everyday player and the resurgence of Curtis Granderson. Those are major gambles and I personally don’t think the Mets can bank on any of them.
So what is my prediction?
I think the Mets will sign Zobrist. I think the Mets will try hard to trade for a reliever but ultimtaely come up short. Every team will ask for one of the big four and the Mets should not give any of them up for a reliever unless they are giving up an elite talent in return. The most available for trade starter for the Mets is Jonathan Niese but then where will you get the innings while you wait out Zach Wheeler’s return from Tommy John? Bartolo Colon has indicated he wants to be a starter and even he knows when Wheeler comes back, he will go back to being a bullpen piece. If he agrees, I think you should definitely sign him.
Colon’s experience and personality fit on any club so his ability to keep a team full of young guys cool when things get dicey is priceless. What the Mets need is a veteran presence on that team and while Michael Cuddyer is there, he likely will be getting his bats spelling Conforto and Duda. You need someone in the pitching staff that can help guide their four young aces.
There’s also no guarantee that all four guys make 30 starts. In fact, Syndergaard and Matz haven’t even pitched full seasons. Matt Harvey will get better (the second season after Tommy John is usually the season where the player begins to look like the pitcher he once was), and Jacob deGrom has shown that he can certainly adjust when the league adjusts to him. The Mets will likely go with a modified innings limit for Wheeler, and will potentially pose the same problematic shifting of the pitching rotation and days between starts that Harvey’s, Thor’s and Matz’s presence did last season. You almost need to have a sixth starter given Matz’s lack of innings professionally and the need to stretch him out. So you almost have to keep Neise. If you trade him, you would have to go back into the market for a starter and can you count on 43 year old Bartolo Colon to duplicate 42 year old Bartolo Colon? For a 42 year old he was pretty freaking good, but the Mets may want to get younger anyway so I don’t see him returning.
Can the Mets expect to spend money on a Tim Lincecum, Ian Kennedy, Doug Fister or a Yovani Gallardo? They are 31, 30, 31 and 29 respectively but I suspect some other team will come along and give those guys 2-3 year deals with higher annual salaries than what the Mets can offer. Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto are going to get monster deals from NL West teams to compete with the monster growing in Arizona. An interesting name that some may say will likely be too expensive is Mat Latos. He has the requisite tools and he’s 27. But he’s a pain in the butt and has maturity issues. But shouldn’t the Mets explore getting him on a cheap 3 year contract? Consider that next year the Mets may be looking to trade off Matt Harvey and they will need someone to take his place. A 28 year old who can throw in the mid-90’s and has shown he has the stuff wouldn’t be too bad of a consolation prize.
Stop hoping for a reunion with once top prospect Scott Kazmir, that ship has sailed. Henderson Alvarez is a very attractive name on that market. But I doubt the Mets will get the chance to sign him. Gavin Floyd as well.
Of course I don’t expect the Mets to go that route. Instead the Mets will likely sign a mid 30’s guy who will understand that once July hits he will be sent to the bullpen or be used as a spot starter. Those roles are taken by the guys who are in their mid-30’s. With the Mets new relevance as contenders, they will get guys to bite. I would love to do a deal with Brandon Morrow. JP Ricciardi, assistant GM, knows Morrow from his time as Toronto’s GM. He has really good stuff and may want to pitch for a contender. More likely is a Bronson Arroyo (a Sandy Alderson fave) or a Jeff Francis type. A guy who knows what they expect of him and won’t have a problem going into the bullpen once July hits.
I think the Mets go after a Greg Holland (if available) or Yusmero Petit (former Met farmhand) to bring in a more tested veteran to assist.
As for offense, the Mets will look internally as they have already loudly bowed out of the Yoenis Cespedes bidding and so won’t be in at top shelf talent like Chris Davis (you would need a corresponding trade for Duda to make that work anyway), Jason Heyward (we need a centerfielder anyway), Alex Gordon (nice try but he’s looking at north of $100M on a long term contract as well), Justin Upton (yah, no). I think they get Zobrist for 4/64-70M. They can then lock in Parra for a 2/25M deal. Shortstop, IMO is not a place the Mets will look to upgrade on the free agent market. They have Wilmer Flores, and Ruben Tejada and I think Matt Reynolds will also make a few starts (finally!). Ultimately the Mets will likely only make those two deals on the free agent market and no other trades for offensive talent.
Of course I think the Mets will look at all options and consider all moves but they won’t make major moves. Not that the Mets can’t. The moment they give the majors a whiff of potentially moving one of the four starters for offensive help, teams will line up with potential scenarios but the Mets, wisely, will resist temptation.
Do these moves add up to a second straight division crown? Not likely. But as we saw last year nobody can predict how the season will play out. What we do know is that the Mets have multiple holes to fill before declaring themselves contenders again but like last year they may have time to fix it. Their one constant is, barring injury, they will have the best collection of talent in the majors in their rotation. How they leverage that over the next few years by making moves to make the rest of the team better will ultimately be how this team is judged.