This is a project where 30 people got together to act as the GMs of the 30 MLB teams with the idea of conducting the offseason in one week. This is what happened in this simulation, not a prediction of what will happen in real life.
The Mets were one of the more interesting teams this go-round in the GM project because they had several different directions they could be taken in and no matter which way you picked, payroll had to be cut $14 million-plus dollars from 2017’s actual Opening Day payroll.
I went into the project with the following goals, listed in order of importance:
1. Improve the infield defense
2. Remake the relief staff into one which put a premium on limiting walks and having guys who could go multiple innings
3. Look to add a pitcher who could be reasonably counted on to throw 175 or more innings
4. Add an outfield bat
My first move was to trade Wilmer Flores, preferably for a late-inning reliever and, for his sake, an AL team where he could act as a designated hitter. My top choice was the Twins, where the target was Trevor Hildenberger. Unfortunately, the Twins felt unable to add the extra payroll this deal would give them. But a fit was found with my second choice in the Blue Jays and Dominic Leone.
Leone had a 2.56 ERA with a 1.052 WHIP last year, with a 2.9 BB/9 ratio in 70.1 innings. Primarily a fastball-cutter guy, Leone worked his way into a consistent 7th-8th inning role by the end of the year with Toronto, even picking up a save in September. Additionally, the just turned 26 year old had equal success versus RHB (.624 OPS) and LHB (.627 OPS) for the season and in the second half of the year, he had a 7.8 K/BB ratio.
The next move was a completely unexpected one, as the Reds approached me with a Steven Matz–Eugenio Suarez deal. My plan was to trade a starting pitcher but the expectation was that it was going to be Zack Wheeler. However, Matz’ consistent durability concerns made me amenable to dealing him. Suarez checked my main box of improving the infield defense and with him on the roster, the decision to decline Asdrubal Cabrera’s option became an easy one to make.
My main concern with Suarez was his almost cartoon-like home/road split last year, when he put up a .978 home OPS compared to a .694 road mark. It was almost enough for me to reject the deal. But Suarez had a much more normal H/R split in 2016 playing in the same park. The bottom line is that his salary was modest, he addressed the defensive goal and there’s the possibility he can repeat last year’s .828 OPS in his age 26 season in 2018. Certainly a deal with risk but one that ultimately was viewed as worth taking.
There was no getting around the idea that AJ Ramos made too much money for my taste, especially given his ugly walk rate. The question was if a trade could be made or if it would have to be an outright non-tender. To my pleasant surprise, a deal was able to be struck and one that actually brought back legitimate talent, too. Ramos was sent to the Rockies, along with Jacob Rhame, for prospect Colton Welker, a third baseman who put up a .901 OPS at the age of 19 last year in the South Atlantic League. While my fingers are crossed on the Suarez deal, this one felt like a slam dunk.
The decision was made to keep most of the arbitration-eligible guys on the club, with the exceptions being non-tenders for Nori Aoki and Tommy Milone. Also, the option for Jerry Blevins was declined, as well as the one for Cabrera. My philosophy was to build a pen with guys to go multiple innings on a regular basis and it didn’t seem like it was a good fit with Blevins. Plus the extra money freed up was earmarked for a big free agent.
With Matz gone, the focus was now not just on innings but quality innings. With roughly $20 million dollars saved with the previous moves, we could shop in the high end of the free agent market. Jake Arrieta was brought in to complement Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard at the top of the rotation. While it seems like a down year for Arrieta, he absolutely dominated in July and August. In 11 games in those two months, he had a 1.69 ERA with a 3:1 strikeout/walk ratio.
Arrieta suffered a hamstring injury in September but came back to make two playoff starts, where he allowed just 1 ER and notched 13 Ks in 10.2 IP. It’s easy to be leery of acquiring a guy who had injury issues last year but he made 30 starts and was very effective both before and after the hamstring issue. While the salary outlay was huge, it seems like a pretty big upgrade from Matz.
Other free agent moves were adding second baseman Eric Sogard, bringing home outfielder Curtis Granderson and picking up Rajai Davis. Sogard is a plus defender and last year posted a .393 OBP in an injury-shortened season. It’s doubtful he’ll repeat those numbers in 2018. But his defense gives him room to fall and still be useful. And if he washes out, T.J. Rivera will get a chance to step in his place. Granderson comes back hopefully as a fourth outfielder but gives insurance in case Michael Conforto is out longer than expected or if Brandon Nimmo fails to hit. Davis gives the club more of a CF backup.
Last but not least, Joakim Soria was imported to give another late-inning option in the pen. While he doesn’t fit the mold of a multi-inning guy, his walk rate is significantly better than Ramos’ and his season was deceptively strong last year. While his 3.70 ERA looks solid, he had a 2.23 FIP, thanks in large part to allowing just 1 HR in 56 IP during all of the homer madness last season. An experienced closer, he can fill in should Jeurys Familia be unavailable at any point during the year. The cost was Juan Lagares. The club will certainly miss his defense but the thought was that Nimmo needed an unfettered shot at the starting job and not having to look over his shoulder at Lagares will give him the best opportunity to succeed.
The infield defense of Sogard-Suarez-Amed Rosario should be miles ahead of the Neil Walker–Jose Reyes-Cabrera infield that started 2017. The bullpen should feature five guys who can go an inning-plus on a regular basis and Familia has that capability as well, even if he’s rarely called on to do it. Arrieta provides a big boost to the rotation and hopefully a return to Queens helps Granderson get over his season-ending slump. He provides a potential big bat off the bench and someone to DH in AL games while Davis gives a much-needed defensive option. All of the objectives were met and a top 10 prospect was added to the organization, too. Welker might even draw support for top guy in the system, depending how you feel about Andres Gimenez and David Peterson.
You might have noticed that not one of the 12 pitchers on the roster is a lefty. This was not a planned decision but it’s not something to be concerned about, either. Before the Soria deal, I tried to get Josh Hader. And before the big winning bid on Arrieta, the plan was to bid on Jake McGee, who was strong outside of Colorado last year. But historically Familia and Hansel Robles are very good against lefties and Leone had a good year in 2017, too. No doubt there will be a dropoff in performance from what Blevins gave in the pen but the expectation is that it will be more than made up for in the innings that the other relievers will provide.
The batting order could be:
You can argue that the offense isn’t as good as what the club started 2017 with and that the bottom half could be borderline disaster, depending on what the two youngsters give. But no matter which direction the offseason went, Rosario and Smith were going to be starters and in my opinion the pitching was more of a concern than the lineup and had to be addressed. Besides, I’ll take my chances with two guys who could put up a .370 OBP in the top two spots in the order.
A healthy Arrieta and Syndergaard would mean a huge improvement in the starting pitching. The question becomes who fills the fourth and fifth slots in the lineup. The hope is that Matt Harvey claims one and Wheeler gets the other, freeing up Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero to work multiple innings at a time out of the pen.
Franklin Gutierrez and Hector Santiago were brought in on NRIs, as well as reuniting new manager Mickey Callaway with his former protégé, Josh Tomlin. Gutierrez is an excellent defensive center fielder while the two pitchers have experience in the majors as both starters and relievers.
|deGrom||9.2||Colton Welker – 3B|