Following a brutal season of injuries and disappointments, as well as a yard sale of veterans on expiring contracts, the Mets have a lot of holes to fill this off-season. As has been reported to death however, GM Sandy Alderson won’t have more than about $30 million in payroll flexibility with which to work.
At first blush it might seem that the Mets have six or seven obvious holes to fill and $30 million will only cover maybe three or four good free agent additions. Trades won’t be easy as the farm system isn’t exactly stocked with blue chip prospects at the upper levels. Where Alderson and new skipper Mickey Callaway will need to really get creative is with maximizing the talent they have on hand, even if that means changing a few roles.
Exhibit A: Bats and Gloves
As successful teams like the Cubs, Cardinals and Red Sox have demonstrated over the past few years, having flexible players who can play more than one position can help you field the best team. While the three free agents from Kansas City all look like good fits for the Mets, they are all one position players. Bringing back Jay Bruce would give us a strong middle of the order, a really good outfield rotation, and an additional backup first baseman. All the talk of Michael Conforto not being a natural center fielder is overblown. While he’s no Gold Glover, he’s capable. More importantly, together with Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares this foursome could form a strong rotation. Between days off, injuries, DH games, pinch hitting and late-inning defensive replacements, all four will get a full season of at bats and Lagares would wind up with as many if not more innings in center as Conforto. And we’d still have Brandon Nimmo in reserve.
Bringing back Asdrubal Cabrera on a one-year deal was shrewd. He gives the Mets the flexibility to go after either a second or third baseman, as there’s clearly not enough cash in the budget to fill both holes through free agency. If the Mets can swing a deal for Dee Gordon, we’d plug two holes in one – a speedy leadoff hitter and a strong-fielding second baseman. If they can’t swing that, they can look at third base and add power, a good glove, a great clubhouse guy, and a local boy in Todd Frazier. Then Cabrera becomes the second baseman. In either scenario, Wilmer Flores can back up the right side of the infield and if Jose Reyes is willing to come back on a reasonable deal, he can back up the left side. When T.J. Rivera comes back from elbow surgery, we’ll have even more depth. Alderson has said he’s comfortable sticking with the current catching platoon, which seemed to work out at the end of last season and can be revisited at mid-season if it doesn’t pan out.
Exhibit B: The Arms
The one-two punch in the rotation appears set with Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom and the back end of the bullpen is in good if not great hands with Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos and Jerry Blevins. On the 40-man roster right now are more than enough arms to fill out the other three spots in the rotation and four or five spots in the bullpen. A wise use of free agent dollars would be to add a sturdy veteran pitcher to slot in the middle of the rotation. Someone who won’t require a long term deal, or big contract who can handle New York and be a good presence in the clubhouse. Someone like R.A. Dickey or C.C. Sabathia. Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Robert Gsellman can battle it out for the last two spots and as we well know, at least one will be injured at any given time. We still have Seth Lugo and the resurgent Rafael Montero to act as swing men.
Notice what starting pitcher hasn’t been mentioned – Zack Wheeler. Like Brandon Morrow, Mike Minor and the great John Smoltz years back, Wheeler has terrific stuff that could translate well to a bullpen role. Even when healthy he struggles with pitch counts, but if his fastball, curveball combo could make him a great set up man. Paul Sewald, Chasen Bradford, Jamie Callahan, Jacob Rhame, et al can all compete like hell for the remaining spots and move up and down from triple A as needed. What is still needed though is another strong lefty to upgrade from the likes of the two Joshes Edgin and Smoker. Blevins is terrific and both a clubhouse and fan favorite, but he’s headed the way of Pedro Feliciano if we don’t get him some help. Tony Watson is available and would be a great fit.
There are many ways to solidify this roster for next season, but the key is to not pigeonhole yourself with too many one-dimensional players. Injuries and slumps are unavoidable, but with a more progressive mind in the dugout, it should not have to spell disaster again.