As this off-season began, this blogger had a different notion that perhaps the front office might consider punting this coming season. With a stacked Washington Nationals team the clear division favorite and a better free agency class waiting after next season, not to mention some roster uncertainty and a new manager, maybe 2018 wasn’t shaping up to be a go-for-it kind of season. However, given the unusual way the free agent market has been playing out, as well as the impact of a number of trades, the Mets appear to be in an interesting position to strike while the iron is hot.
The Mets have a major advantage being in what is quickly shaping up to be the weakest division of the six. Thanks to the scheduling adjustments under realignment a few years ago, the Mets will play more than a third of their regular season games against lower tier teams. We are scheduled to play 19 games against the Phillies, who yes, have a few interesting players and added Carlos Santana and a few bullpen pieces, but they are clearly still in rebuild mode. We will also play 19 against the Braves, who’ve been busy shuffling around salary but still have more roster holes than a block of Swiss cheese. And, praise the baseball gods, we’ll have 19 games against the currently deconstructing Marlins, a team that had little pitching last year and now just salary chopped the top half of what was a strong lineup. If the Mets can capitalize on those 57 games and go at least 35-22, they can split the remaining games and contend for a wild card.
Outside of the NL East, it may seem like the Cubs and Dodgers are poised to repeat as division winners, but the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Giants, Cardinals and newly reinforced Brewers are all going to beat each other up for a wild card spot. Unless one of those teams adds a remaining elite free agent, none of them is so far ahead of the Mets in talent. And the easier schedule gives us a big edge. The Mets can make that edge bigger by making an aggressive play in this stagnant market.
All the talk has been about which good but not great second or third baseman will round out the infield. But what about a surprise big move like what the Nationals did signing Max Scherzer a few years back. Shock the baseball world (and Mets fans) and grab one of the four big starting pitchers still sitting there. In one move, we solidify the rotation, beef up the bullpen and possibly create some trade bait. Another way to round out the infield would be to sign Jonathan Lucroy. All that new pitching philosophy and proactive training stuff, plus a real Crash Davis to help get the most out of all these arms. Trading for a Josh Harrison or Jason Kipnis or signing a Todd Frazier or Eduardo Nunez checks off the last box, but the Mets need that move plus one more difference maker.
Additionally, as these last precious off-season weeks turn to days, players are going to get antsy. They all say they’ll sit out spring training and wait it out, but baseball history is littered with guys like Stephen Drew for whom that turned out to be a massive mistake. How many are bluffing and want to get their wives off their backs about where they’re going to need to find a home or even where their kids might go to school? The top names like Jake Arrieta and J.D. Martinez might have to settle for five-year deals when they were expecting seven and where does that leave the next tier? Do Lance Lynn and Mike Moustakas settle for three? Does Lucroy settle for two? Many of the usual big spending teams are holding tight to avoid the luxury tax threshold and wait for next year’s class. The Mets could be picking up bargains like a January mall shopper with a fistfull of holiday gift cards.
In addition to the big names still out there, there’s also a long list of guys who might not be All-Stars but would help this team and might come a lot cheaper than we imagined. How about an experienced starter/reliever swingman like Francisco Liriano, or a strong 4th outfielder like Jon Jay or Jarrod Dyson, or maybe another lefty to take the pressure off Jerry Blevins in the bullpen like Tony Watson? And, even though relievers flew off the shelves early on, free agency is still stocked with potential bullpen bounce back candidates who may have to settle for non guaranteed spring training invites.
If we’re not gonna fold, then let’s go all in. This is New York and our fans are hungry for some action.