How do the Mets stack up in the NL East?

We’ve been so busy picking apart the Mets roster this off-season, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take a broader look at our division rivals to see how we measure up. Unlike other divisions, the NL East does not have a doormat team. The Marlins might not be a playoff favorite, but they’ve got more talent than any other projected fifth place finisher in either league. And, as you’ll see, they’re the least of our concerns. Here’s your annual NL East preview.

Atlanta Braves

Strengths: A strong middle-of-the-order with emerging star Ronald Acuna Jr., MVP/Mets crusher Freddie Freeman, and masher Marcel Ozuna. A strong rotation led by young guns Max Fried, Mike Soroka, and Ian Anderson, and a deep bullpen topped by flamethrower A.J. Minter are both bolstered by a collection of carefully assembled veterans.

Weaknesses: The bottom of the lineup is potentially weak as the team is waiting for Austin Riley to establish himself at third and crosses its fingers that the young speedster Christian Pache can take over for the light-hitting Ender Inciarte in center field. Speaking of crossing fingers, as of this writing, the team does not have a proven catcher to back up the ever fragile Travis d’Arnaud. Ozuna can hit, but is a liability in the field and there’s no DH this year.

Best Player: Freeman

Wildcard: Pache

Best Case: Pache and Riley breakout, giving the Braves are strong lineup to support their pitching and they win a fourth consecutive division title.

Worst Case: Ozuna makes errors, d’Arnaud gets hurt, Riley is a bust, Pache isn’t ready and the pitching isn’t good enough to carry them beyond .500.

Prediction: Wild Card

Miami Marlins

Strengths: Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez lead a new wave of young rotation arms that are developing faster than expected. With so many great third basemen, you don’t hear much about Brian Anderson, but he’s a good ball player. Speedy, young outfielders will track down balls in the gap. Starling Marte is still on this team.

Weaknesses: The bullpen is largely unproven and the lineup lacks a real threat.

Best Player: Alcantara

Wildcard: Magneuris Sierra

Best Case: Some of the other young arms like Pablo Lopez, Nick Neidert and Elieser Hernandez develop and the team fights and scratches to a .500 record.

Worst Case: The Marllins get off to a slow start in a competitive division and trade away Marte at the deadline before sinking to last place.

Prediction: 5th place

New York Mets

Strengths: The strongest lineup this team has had since 2006 features power, speed, contact and balance. Adding a dynamic offensive player like Francisco Lindor to an already good lineup is scary for other teams. Jacob deGrom is without question the best pitcher in the game. A solid and versatile bench and some extra rotation arms should help the Mets overcome the usual injuries. They’ll get a jolt in early June when Noah Syndergaard returns.

Weaknesses: Outfield defense. Starting the season with three of our best pitchers on the IL. A poor fielding third baseman. Question marks in middle relief.

Best Player: deGrom

Wildcard: Syndergaard

Best Case: Those three pitchers return to health and the Mets find another reliable bullpen arm or two among who’s currently on the roster or available at mid-season. With this high octane offense, the pitching doesn’t need to be great, just good and reliable for them to make the playoffs. If Syndergaard comes back strong, this team could win the division and advance in the playoffs.

Worst Case: Syndergaard, Seth Lugo and Carlos Carrasco don’t all make it back and the pitching staff struggles.

Prediction: 1st place

Philadelphia Phillies

Strengths: A good lineup with six of their regulars capable of hitting 20+ homers. A strong top of the rotation.

Weaknesses: The bullpen was terrible last year and Archie Bradley won’t be enough to fix it. The backend of the rotation looks like a problem.

Best Player: Bryce Harper

Wildcard: Spencer Howard

Best Case: Howard has a big rookie year to give the Phillies four capable starters and the lineup stays healthy and keeps the team above .500 til the trade deadline when they bring in some reinforcements for the bullpen.

Worst Case: Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola gets injured or Zack Efflin comes back to earth and the pitching proves too thin for this team to be competitive.

Prediction: 3rd place

Washington Nationals

Strengths: Rotation is one of the best with 3-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. Veteran Jon Lester is first in line to fill out the backend with Erick Fedde, Austin Voth and Joe Ross competing for starts. The addition of Brad Hand should strengthen what should be a solid bullpen. Juan Soto is an absolute monster and Trea Turner is an All Star at shortstop.

Weaknesses: Soto will get walked 150 times as his only protection is Josh Bell. The rest of the lineup besides those two and Turner is hardly imposing. This team hasn’t replaced the departed Harper and Anthony Rendon and can’t consistently score runs. They have too many players than can field but not hit and vice versa.

Best Player: Soto

Wildcard: Carter Kieboom

Best Case: Kieboom develops, Victor Robles starts hitting, and Kyle Schwarber stays healthy and adds thump to the lineup. The key pitchers avoid the IL and this team can battle for a wild card.

Worst Case:  Too many errors in the field, too many runners stranded on base and not enough health among an aging pitching staff.

Prediction: 4th place

Can Diaz, May, and Lugo lock down the late innings?

Edwin DiazIt’s been a busy off-season for the Mets and the front office has done an admirable job filling out the 40-man roster with talent, versatility, and depth. The offense, defense, bench, and rotation should all be significantly improved over last year and primed for a playoff run. But as history tells us, a weak bullpen can torpedo a promising season. After all, ever the best starting pitchers rarely throw complete games anymore, so it’s very often left to the relievers to hold the lead or keep the game close.

As for closing, Edwin Diaz figures to hold that role again. Will we see the strikeout machine we saw in 2020 or the homerun derby pitcher we saw in 2019? This is a very big and scary question to consider. What was the main cause of Diaz’s brutal 2019 – the slick ball, the change of scenery, or the pressure of playing in New York? Maybe the raised seems last season helped him find his slider and maybe he got used to his teammates and the big city. Or, as some have suggested, maybe he thrived under the reduced pressure of not having to pitch in front of a packed ballpark. The fans may return at some point this season and the baseballs will be changing again so we can’t rest too easy on our expectations here. One positive is that new catcher James McCann is regarded as a better receiver, pitch framer, and overall defensive catcher than his predecessor and that can certainly help Diaz.

The good news is that there are alternatives if Diaz falters. Newly signed Trevor May is another hard-throwing strikeout pitcher who can be a lockdown setup man and step in to close if needed.  Over the past season and a half in Minnesota, May struck out a whopping 117 batters in just 87.2 innings. Seth Lugo, though expected to begin the season on the IL recovering from surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, also has some closing experience, as well as the ability to pitch multiple innings. It would be reassuring if the Mets could add one more bullpen piece before the season starts to at least hold the line until Lugo returns, likely in mid May.

The Mets’ 2021 bullpen also features two former All-Star closers in Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances. Due to injuries or ineffectiveness, neither has been dominant for several years now. However, the hope is that both are healthy with something to prove and at least one of them will prove effective as a useful setup man. The lefty Aaron Loup seemed to transform from an average reliever to a very effective one last year with Tampa Bay and he cranked it up a notch in the playoffs. In nine 2020 post-season appearances, Loup was effective in eight and allowed no home runs. He will certainly be in the late inning mix.

The rest of the bullpen may be something of a revolving door as pitchers shuttle back and forth to Syracuse depending on injuries, needs, effectiveness, and options. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Righties Robert Gsellman and Miguel Castro are likely to be on the opening day roster. The latter can strike batters out, but also gives up way too many walks. Gsellman can go multiple innings and start in a pinch, but it’s been a few seasons now since he’s been really effective.

Jacob Barnes, Franklyn Kilome, Sam McWilliams, Sean Reid-Foley, Drew Smith, Stephen Tarpley, Daniel Zamora Yennsy Diaz figure to battle for the last spot, along with a number of spring training invites, like Jerry Blevins, Tommy Hunter, Mike Montgomery, Arodys Vizcaino, Ryley Gilliam, and others. There’s something to be said for the old adage of “strength in numbers,” but by mid-season, the Mets will certainly have had an opportunity to get a sense of who, if any, of these cast-offs, journeyman, and upstarts is worthy of sticking around in Queens.

Our bullpen is deep in terms of live arms worth a look, but it’s remarkably shallow in terms of arms that Manager Luis Rojas and Mets fans can truly rely on. It would be great if Betances, Familia or Gsellman can make a comeback or if one of these other relievers could emerge, but at the moment it looks like we have four go-to arms and one is injured. This won’t be enough to get us through the long season. Hopefully, Sandy Alderson and Zack Scott can find one more bullpen addition over the next few weeks. Otherwise, this will be our biggest area of concern and may be worth revisiting at the mid-season trade deadline.

The Mets dodged a bullet with George Springer

Noah Syndergaard and Michael ConfortoGeorge Springer is a terrific player and as a playoff-tested, right-handed slugger who plays a solid centerfield, he seemed to be the most coveted free agent for Mets fans. Alas, it was not meant to be, as the Blue Jays swooped in and snagged the former Astro All-Star for six years and $150 million.

The $25 million AAV is not far off what Springer was projected to get, but that extra year is tough to swallow. As this blogger has pointed out many times, centerfielders don’t age well. Sure, he’ll probably be good for another three years, but the back end of that contract could be ugly. At best, he’ll transition to a corner outfield position and still be able to slug 30 home runs per year. At worst? Well, remember Jacoby Ellsbury? How about Dexter Fowler? AJ Pollock? Lorenzo Cain? The list is long.

Back when the Mets signed Carlos Beltran to a then whopping seven-year, $119 million contract, he was just 27 years old. Springer turned 31 in September. There’s little question he will boost the Blue Jays offense for the next few years, but after that, his contract could be a problem. However, with most of their key players still in pre-arbitration years, the Blue Jays can afford to take on this gamble. The Mets cannot.

As Sandy Alderson and Steve Cohen have made clear, they want to build a sustainable winner. You simply don’t accomplish that by stockpiling expensive free agents.

The Mets have a nice core of young talent and some, like Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, and Jeff McNeil, are still earning well below their market value as pre-arbitration players. However, many of our other key players, like Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis, and Seth Lugo, are seeing steady pay increases through arbitration. The biggest concern of course is that four of the main cogs on this team will hit free agency when this coming season ends – Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman. That list also includes Steven Matz, Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances, but these guys are obviously less of a concern.

Now, if we were still owned by the Wilpons, we’d be bracing ourselves to lose three out of four of those players. But those cheapskates who let us wave good-bye to homegrown favorites like Jose Reyes and Zack Wheeler are thankfully out of the picture. A certain avuncular billionaire owner wants his fans to be happy. Now, realistically, we won’t be able to keep Lindor, Conforto, Syndergaard and Stroman. But in order to have a chance to bring back two or hopefully three of them and keep the band together for sustained winning, we’re going to have to keep our 2021 spending in check.

The trade for Lindor and Carlos Carrasco was our big move and it was enormous. That move alone puts us firmly in the playoff discussion. Bringing back Stroman and signing Brian McCann, Trevor May and Jose Martinez, plus trading for Joey Lucchesi, helps solidify the roster for the coming season. By most accounts, the Mets are still nearly $30 million below the soft salary cap. And, by most accounts, the Mets still have a few remaining roster holes that need plugging.

Without Springer, and hopefully not Trevor Bauer, the Mets don’t need to eat up that remaining space with one contract. Although Brad Hand is currently being courted by multiple teams, a lefty reliever who can close would give us the best bullpen we’ve had in many years. A gold glove centerfielder like Jackie Bradley Jr. would give us a really strong up-the-middle defense. And a gold glove second baseman like Kolton Wong would give us a fantastic infield with McNeil moving over to third. These three combined might make less than what Bauer is seeking.

A cheaper version of this – Justin Wilson, Kevin Pillar, and Jonathan Villar – would still round out the roster and leave wiggle room for a mid-season acquisition, not to mention the possibility of extending one or more of the walk year players. Flexibility is key, as keeping a good team intact.

Look at the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals as cautionary tales. Yes, they won World Series, but these teams were talked about as a sustained winners, if not potential dynasties. Fans in Boston and San Francisco can more easily swallow the downturn as they have three rings to show for it.

These days, the top players are seeking $30 million AAV contracts. Even if you can support a $200 million payroll, you really can’t have more than two or three of those guys on your team and hope to fill out a roster. This isn’t the NBA where two superstars can win you a title. You could literally have the three best players in baseball on your team – say Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jacob deGrom – and still finish in last place if the rest of your team stinks. The Nationals have $100 million spoken for by the front of their rotation and had to bid adieu to Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in successive off-seasons. Now their team consists of the three pitchers, a few young stars, and a whole lot of marginal players.

Of course MattyMets wants to see his team win it all for the first time since he was 14, but what he really wants is for the Mets to be like the Cardinals or Dodgers, who seem to be in the playoffs every year. Locking up guys like Conforto and Syndergaard is the best way to make that happen.

Here’s how the Mets could outsmart and outpitch the league.

Mets pitchersIt sure feels like Christmas for Mets fans with a deep-pocketed, new owner ready to spend and a capable and familiar President of Baseball Operations ushering in a new front office equipped to recognize and harness the talent this franchise needs to get us back to playing baseball in October.

As much as the off-season has gotten off to a slow start, the Mets have been dominating the hot stove discussions. Nearly every big name free agent or trade candidate has had their name tied to Queens in off-season rumors. So far so good, but the heavy lifting is about to begin.

Preparing this Mets team for 2021 will take more than an aggressive free agency; it will require a well thought out approach that puts us a step ahead of the competition. Just as we’ve watched other teams revolutionize the game with the use of analytics, shifts, launch angle, and more, the Mets have a chance to have a secret winning strategy of their own this coming season.

We all know the Mets need to add a new starting pitcher. But MattyMets is here to argue we need at least two, if not three. Prediction: rotation depth will be the key to the 2021 season for all teams.

As it stands, our rotation is led by the best pitcher in baseball, followed by a solid number two. You could argue that we could add one quality starter and patch together the back end between the untested David Peterson, the enigmatic Steven Matz and the miscast Seth Lugo. MattyMets disagrees.

Even if the upcoming season ends up being 162 games with a familiar set of rules, it will be a wonky season. Here’s why. There will need to be innings limits imposed on every single starting pitcher, or else we’re going to see a rash of elbow injuries like we’ve never seen before.

If you give merit to the Verducci effect, pitchers are far more susceptible to arm injuries when there is a significant increase in innings pitched from one season to the next. Going from one 32-start/200-inning season to the next, a pitcher is prepared. But, going from an injury-shortened (or Covid-shortened) 12-start/70-inning season to a full one leaves a pitcher very vulnerable. The leading 2020 innings eater was Lance Lynn with just 84 IP. Jacob deGrom threw 68, Peterson threw 49.2, Marcus Stroman threw zero innings and it’s not yet clear who will fill out the rotation. This is a problem.

Smart teams will be prepared with deep bullpens featuring a few old-school long reliever/spot starter types (where’s Terry Leach when we need him?). Shrewd GMs will stack their triple A affiliate with veteran arms who can step in as needed. Signing former Phillies pitcher Jerad Eickhoff was a good start. Though he struggled recently, he has a live arm and some solid seasons behind him. He’s still 29 so there’s a chance for a bounce back and he’s worth a look. The Mets should look for a few more guys like that.

The smartest and boldest move of all would be to implement a six-man rotation. This way there are reasonable expectations placed on starters, injury risk is reduced, and there’s a better chance of them having some steam left heading into the post-season, which the Mets plan to attend in 2021.

Rather than putting all their eggs in one basket, like say spending $30mm on Trevor Bauer, the Mets might be better served bringing in two $10-$15 million arms, plus taking a flyer on a few guys coming off down years or injuries. The teams that succeed will be the ones that best prepared for the certain uncertainty of 2021.

Steve Cohen could top the 2008 Yankees spending spree

raining cashThe 2008 New York Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. They were about to move into their newly renovated ballpark with more luxury suites. The Steinbrenners had money to spend and Yankee fans were eager to get right back into contention. Luckily for them, the stars aligned as the free agent class that winter was topped by three star players who could put the Yankees right back into October baseball.

While the rest of baseball was utterly shocked, Yankee fans celebrated Christmas all winter long as the Yankees committed a whopping $424 million in contracts to snatch up all three of the big off-season prizes. If that seems like a lot of money now, remember that this was 12 years ago.

In desperate need of pitching, the Yankees roped in likely future Hall of Famer CC Sabathia with a 7-year/$161 million deal. At the time, that was a monster contract. To further shore up their rotation, the Yankees also grabbed A.J. Burnett for 5-years/$83 million. However, the biggest contract that off-season went to the switch-hitting, gold-glove first baseman, Mark Teixeira. He signed for a then staggering 8-years/$180 million.

In case anyone reading this doesn’t recall how that investment turned out, the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. Meanwhile, Mets fans were less celebratory upon hearing the Braves outbid us for Derek Lowe and we settled for resigning Oliver Perez to a three-year/$36 million contract. We also signed Francisco Rodriguez to a three-year/$37 million deal.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, or, rather the coin purse is in another borough. Now, at long freakin’ last, the stars have aligned for us. All of our dreams came true as billionaire and lifelong Mets fan Steve Cohen bought the team away from the penny pinching Wilpon family. On top of Cohen’s riches, the Mets also have plenty of wiggle room with contracts coming off the books, including a surprise $20.25 million courtesy of the Robinson Cano PED suspension. And, as luck would have it, many of the top available free agents play our biggest positions of need – starting pitcher, catcher, and center field.

As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, most teams will be hesitant to spend this off-season, as they lost millions in revenue in 2020 with Covid-19 robbing them of earnings from ticket sales, concessions, parking, merchandise, etc. Cohen lost no money last year because he didn’t own a baseball team until right now. Not only is he the richest owner in Major League Baseball, but he may also be the luckiest.

Maybe it’s so ingrained in us from the lean Wilpon years to think, oh, maybe now we can get one of the big free agents – which one should we get? Hence, there have been endless debates on this blog, and anywhere else intelligent Mets fans gather, about whether we should go after the ace pitcher, the All-Star catcher, or the playoff tested centerfielder. Why can we only have one?

We all dream of winning the lottery. If you win the small state jackpot, maybe you pay off your bills and go on an exotic vacation. But, if you win the Powerball jackpot, you take care of everyone you know, buy a giant house and a fancy car, season tickets to the Mets, and still have more left than you know what to do with. Hmm, maybe I should be shopping for a yacht or a private jet or an island! You get the point?

At the top tier of this year’s free agent class are Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, and George Springer, referenced above, as well as two-time batting champ DJ LeMahieu and slugger Marcell Ozuna. These are very good players who would look great in blue and orange, but none of them are generational talents like Mike Trout or Mookie Betts. No one above is going to command a 10-year/$300 million+ contract. Factor in the shortage of competition from so many teams in the red, and the Mets are in the catbird seat to corral three of these guys.

How much would that take? Well, the wildcard is Bauer, who has previously been committed to playing on one-year contracts. Coming off a Cy Young season, might he be convinced to finally commit to one team?  If yes, it could set off a bidding war with all of the California teams seeking starting pitching. If that is the case, Bauer could push toward something in the neighborhood of 7-years/$210 million. Is this mercurial and only recently dominant pitcher really worth that much? MattyMets doesn’t think so, but perhaps some of you do.

As for the other four players, Realmuto and Springer could command something like 5-years/$125 while Lemahieu and Ozuna a bit less at 4-years/$92 million. So, if Cohen, Alderson and our as-yet-to-be-named General Manager want to add arguably the three best available free agents to our roster, it might cost $460 million. That would indeed top the 2008-9 Yankees haul, but then, it’s 12 years later.

Cohen likely doesn’t care nearly as much about sticking it to the Yankees as he does fielding a winner in Queens, but if that is a goal of his, a cheaper way to accomplish that would be to simply outbid the Bronx Bombers for LeMahieu.

It’s hard to fathom, like with the Powerball, but we actually won. Yeah, Mets fans really won!  Let that sink in because now, it’s time to spend, baby. #LFGM

A blueprint for the perfect Mets offseason

J.T. RealmutoAlthough the Mets had a disappointing 2020 season and missed the playoffs, MattyMets here feels like a winner. At long last, we have the deep-pocketed ownership this New York team with the world’s most awesome fans deserves.

You have to take the 2020 season with a grain of salt, not only because of the shortened season with weird rules, but because this team suffered a number of unexpected strokes of bad luck from injuries to opt-outs and off-years. In our last full season of play, we were right on the cusp of the playoffs, boasting a lot of talent and our best lineup since 2006. Unfortunately, the front office chose to let Zack Wheeler walk away for nothing. This, plus the injury to Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman‘s opt-out left our pitching staff too thin to compete in 2020, despite a deep, powerful offense. However, this eternal Mets optimist still thinks the foundation is in place and the blue and orange are just one smart off-season away from returning to contention. Here’s the plan.

Step 1: Rebuild the front office.
Bringing back Sandy Alderson, a smart, respected, and seasoned baseball man to lead the charge as President of Baseball Operations will be a good start for new owner, Steve Cohen. Next up is to cut our losses with the agent-turned-GM experiment and buy out Brodie Van Wagenen. Most of his moves were short-sighted, he gave away too much of our future and rolled the dice on the wrong pitchers. The right man for the job is someone who is bold, smart, and understands the real value of players, how today’s game is won, and what this team is missing. There are no shortage of quality candidates out there – the Brewers’ David Stearns, the A’s Billy Owens, the Indians’ Mike Chernoff, the Diamondbacks’ Jared Porter, and a few familiar options like J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta, among others. After settling on a GM and a direction for this team, next up is to build up a robust analytics department to put this organization on the same playing field as the Braves, Dodgers and other teams who’ve found sustained success in this decade.

Step 2: Resolve in-house issues.
The front office needs to make some quick decisions regarding players up for free agency, facing options or getting too expensive in arbitration. The good news is that most of the core is under contract. Starting with the offense, it’s time to move on from Wilson Ramos.  A $1.5 million buyout seems like a steal compared to his $10 million option. He doesn’t hit home runs anymore and the lead-footed, weak-fielding catcher is not worth near that amount of money for whatever singles he hits, especially in a year with some good free agent catchers available. The Mets have a similar situation with the recently acquired Robinson Chirinos as he is due to make $6.5 million, unless they buy him out for $1 million. They should let him walk away too. Tomas Nido is a fine backup and the Mets can always bring back Rene Rivera or a reasonable facsimile to help fill in.

Todd Frazier will cost the Mets either a $5.75 million option or a $1.5 million buy out. I may be alone in this, but, depending on how the chips fall, I’d consider bringing him back. He’s a great clubhouse presence, and a good third baseman who still hits for power and he allows us to play Jeff McNeil primarily at second and minimize the number of innings J.D. Davis sees ta third. Jed Lowrie is a straight up free agent and as much as it stings to have gotten nothing out of that contract, at least there’s no buyout necessary. Jake Marisnick is also a free agent who did not give us any ROI in 2020 so, adios.

On the pitching front, Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha are all free agents. Wacha and Porcello were bad signings and should be allowed to walk. As for Stroman, more on that later. Among relievers, Justin Wilson is a free agent who should be resigned. Two years, $12 million should get it done. Dellin Betances has a $6 million player option or a $3 million buyout. This one is out of the Mets hands, but it’s safe to assume, after the lousy year he had, that he’ll opt in for the $6 million and try to prove he can still pitch. Righties Brad Brach and Jared Hughes are also free agents and, after mediocre years, they can take their business elsewhere. Brach has a modest player option, but will likely walk away from it. Robert Gsellman and Steven Matz are not free agents, but are both coming off disgusting seasons and are getting pricy in arbitration. Both could use a change of scenery.

At the same time, the Mets need to work on a long-term contract for Michael Conforto. Home grown stars should not walk away for nothing from New York teams. Conforto is coming off a great season and entering his walk yea.r The new, smarter ownership/leadership will make sure we don’t make that mistake again.

Step 3: Take an aggressive approach to free agency.
The Mets number one target should be catcher J.T. Realmuto. Upgrading from the plodding Ramos to an athletic catcher who can frame pitches, throw out runners, hit for power, run the bases, and provide leadership would be the most impactful move the Mets could make and it’s worth an overpay. Despite reports that Realmuto could command a $200 million contract, something on the order of 6-years/$150 million seems more realistic. Yes, he’s the consensus “best catcher in baseball.” but that’s by default. He doesn’t have an MVP trophy and three World Series rings like Buster Posey or an MVP and a batting title like Joe Mauer. A better comparison is Yadier Molina. He’s not Johnny Bench, but signing Realmuto would improve the Mets lineup, defense, and pitching. For this reason, the Mets need to treat signing him like the Yankees did Gerrit Cole last off-season and just jump right in with the big offer and not give anyone else a chance, even if it means eating the last year or two of his deal.

The Mets biggest area of need is clearly starting pitching. While many on this blog are pining for Trevor Bauer, MattyMets disagrees. He’s a pain in the ass. Read the book The MVP Machine (Thanks BK for lending it to me) and you’ll see that he does not play nice in the sandbox. His insistence on one-year contracts may have less to do with his arrogance and more to do with his wearing out his welcome. With an improved defense (more on that in a bit), to better handle all those groundballs he induces, bringing back Stroman makes sense. He can handle New York and he’s a gamer. He makes a solid number two behind Jacob deGrom and five years/$100 million should get it done.

With David Peterson slotted in the fifth starter spot and Noah Syndergaard due back by Memorial Day, the Mets still need at least one more starting pitcher. The good news is that free agency is teeming with mid to back rotation options. Some interesting options that won’t be too expensive include Kevin Gausman, Mike Minor, Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton, Robbie Ray, Drew Smyley, Julio Teheran, and Tajuan Walker. The best play here might be to wait it out as it’s a buyers’ market and, given the economic circumstances, many teams will be pinching pennies this off-season. In the end, the Mets should try to grab two from this list with the plan to move one of them to the bullpen when Syndergaard comes back. Ray would be a great candidate for that as he’s a big strikeout guy who could benefit from short bursts out of the pen.  My guess is Ray could be had for three years, $45 million, and Gausman could be had for two years, $20 million.

With the rotation set, it’s time to look at the bullpen. With Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo, Jeurys Familia, Betances, Wilson, Chasen Shreve, Miguel Castro, and Drew Smith in the fold, there aren’t a lot of vacancies. With Lugo back in the pen and Ray set to join him a little later in the season, the pen should be strong enough and an upgrade can always be added in July.

The Mets could really use a centerfielder, but with so much money going to Realmuto and Stroman, signing George Springer is not realistic. However, Joc Pederson is. The former Dodger hits home runs, can play centerfield and allows Brandon Nimmo to shift to left field.  It makes for an all-lefty outfield, but we could also sign someone like Kevin Pillar to fill in. He fits the bill as a cheap, right handed centerfielder and can be had on a one-year deal for $3 million. The righty J.D. Davis can also fill in at left field when needed.

Step 4: Let’s make a deal.
Signing Realmuto and Stroman is splashy, but the way the Mets can really win the back pages and the NL East, is through a trade. The stars are in alignment. The Mets have good players out of position and a few players who need a change of scenery. At the same time, payroll is not a major concern and several teams will be looking to cut payroll. Two superstar players could be available this off-season – shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Nolan Arenado. Either player would improve the Mets offense and defense. They both have Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers and are in their prime. Could a package of Andres Gimenez, J.D. Davis, Matz, Gsellman and a minor leaguer or two get it done? It’s worth a shot.

More realistically, the Mets send Robinson Cano back to the Yankees to finish out his Hall of Fame career in pinstripes. We might have to include cash to offset his salary some (say, the $3.5 million owed to us by Seattle) and in return we’d get marginal prospects, but more importantly, we save money that can be better spent elsewhere and open up second base for Jeff McNeil, DH for Pete Alonso, and first base for Dominic Smith.  With Frazier at third, Gimenez at short, and Realmuto behind the plate, the Mets defense would be light years better. In another small but smart move, the Mets send Steven Matz and Robert Gsellman to the pitching starved Angels, Orioles, or Red Sox in exchange for pitching prospects so we can plant some seeds on that barren farm.

This off-season activity would lead the 2021 Mets roster to look like this:

lineup
Brandon Nimmo LF – league minimum
Jeff McNeil 2B – league minimum
JT Realmuto C – 25 million
Michael Conforto RF – 15 million
Pete Alonso DH –  league minimum
Dominic Smith 1B – 3 million
Joc Pederson CF – 10 million
Todd Frazier 3B – 5.75 million
Andres Gimenez SS – league minimum

Bench

J.D. Davis INF/OF – 2.5 million
Amed Rosario INF – 2 million
Luis Guillorme INF – league minimum
Kevin Pillar OF – 3 million
Tomas Nido C – league minimum

Rotation
Jacob deGrom – 35.5 million
Marcus Stroman – 20 million
Robbie Ray – 15 million
Kevin Gausman – 10 million
David Peterson – league minimum
Noah Syndergaard – 11 million (IR)

Bullpen
Edwin Diaz – 10 million
Seth Lugo – 4 million
Justin Wilson – 6 million
Jeurys Familia – 11.67 million
Dellin Betances – 6 million
Chasen Shreve – 2.5 million
Miguel Castro – 1.5 million

Miscellaneous
Buyouts –  Ramos and Chirinos – 2.5 million
3.5 million from the Mariners (sent to Yankees with Cano)

This off-season activity would put the Mets opening day payroll at $204 million, a notable increase, but still beneath the expected $210 million luxury tax threshold. This team would be much better defensively and a little better offensively with pitching good enough to keep them in games. This is a better than .500 team that could kick it into a higher gear and make a serious playoff run when Syndergaard rejoins the rotation and Ray shifts to the bullpen.