Baseball-Reference has a page for each team in both leagues going back seemingly forever. A quick check showed one for the 1901 Tigers and the 1899 Giants. The layout for these pages is simple. They list a starter at each position, the player with the most PA at said spot, and then the reserves in descending order of PA. The 2015 Mets are interesting when you look at their offense. The expectation is that four of the year-long “starters” on the team that went to the World Series will be different this year and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if six of the eight guys were different from a season ago.
Compare that to the Giants, the NL representative in the World Series from the previous year. Six of the eight starters for the Giants in their World Series year of 2014 held the same spot in 2015 and the two that didn’t left the club via free agency. The previous league champion Cardinals had five starters return. And the 2012-2013 Giants had six of the same starters in both seasons.
The 2016 Mets know that neither Daniel Murphy nor Michael Cuddyer will be among their starters. They strongly hope that neither Kevin Plawecki nor Eric Campbell will, either. And it would be a surprise to few if both Wilmer Flores and Juan Lagares were listed down with the reserves.
Of those six players, only Murphy and his .770 OPS will be truly missed. But odds were against Murphy repeating his strong season of a year ago and his replacement, Neil Walker, has a career OPS just one point lower than what Murphy gave the club last year. Marcel projects Walker to have an OPS 29 points higher than Murphy in 2016.
There were 352 players to amass at least 200 PA in 2015. If we ranked them in ascending OPS+ order, Plawecki would place 21st and Campbell would check in at 42nd. Two of their alleged starters were in the bottom 12th percentile offensively. While it’s true they combined for just 464 PA, there’s still a ton of ground to be gained offensively for the 2016 Mets at these positions.
Lagares and Flores were markedly better, yet still no great shakes offensively. Lagares ranked 78th if we continue with our ascending order while Flores was 146th. Meanwhile, their replacements both were better last year. Alejandro De Aza ranked 204th while Asdrubal Cabrera checked in at 209th. Of course, the 2015 starters might well improve over their totals from a year ago, while the two veteran replacements were unlikely to do the same.
Finally, everyone expects Michael Conforto to be a nice upgrade from what Cuddyer gave the Mets a season ago.
These six starters gave the 2015 Mets a .255/.301/.384 line over 2,385 PA. The 2016 version hopes to improve across the board in each of the slash categories, as well as in actual playing time. Here are the Steamer forecasts for the expected six replacement starters in 2016:
|Alejandro De Aza||.241||.304||.365||418|
We see a nice bump in expected playing time. What we don’t see is a great increase in expected average from the group. However, all six are expected to have a higher OBP than the average of our 2015 group and five of the six are expected to post a higher SLG mark, too. The above sextet is projected to produce a .255/.320/.413 line. That’s an additional 48 points of OPS over an additional 487 PA.
That difference is significant and a reason to be optimistic. However, it’s still fair to ask if it’s enough or if the Mets could have done better allocating their offseason resources elsewhere. Clearly, they were going to get a bump going from Campbell, Cuddyer and Plawecki to Conforto, d’Arnaud and Wright. But was the money + trade chip spent on acquiring Cabrera, De Aza and Walker worth it?
Is the bang the Mets are going to get for the roughly $23 million spent on those three players, combined with the low-risk nature of the short-term deals an acceptable tradeoff for not shopping in the high-rent district of free agents or trade acquisitions? Or not spreading the wealth over different players? It’s a nearly impossible question to answer now. We all have opinions but no one can say if my version or your version would be better than Sandy Alderson’s reality.
We can say with confidence that it’s little surprise that Alderson chose the low-risk path. It’s likely both his mandate and his inclination if left on his own. It’s my opinion that these moves in isolation are fine. Not one of these three, when judged strictly on its own merits, leaves you scratching your head. Most everyone loves the Walker deal, the Cabrera deal is fair given his expected output and De Aza will likely outperform his contract.
But the issues are that the moves are not made in isolation, they offer little in the way of upside and they send the message to the fan base that management prefers bunt attempts to swinging for a base hit.
The one comforting thing is that last year we saw Alderson accept risk at the trade deadline. Risk has got to be part of your portfolio and while Alderson might be mostly risk-averse, at least we know he’s not 100% opposed to the concept.
Even if he spent $20-plus million this offseason to avoid it.