Other than the annual amateur draft, Major League Baseball teams have two big opportunities to shape a roster – the off-season and the summer trade deadline.b The Mets blew both in the last calendar year and hence we’re battling for last place instead of a playoff spot.
Short-sighted thinking is the wrong approach. Short-sighted thinking had us plugging holes with second-tier veteran free agents rather than working creative trades or spending a little more money on top tier talent. Every single off-season signing – Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak, Jason Vargas and Jose Reyes – has been a train wreck. Those five have all either been injured, severely under-performing or both. And with the back loaded deals we signed them to, Bruce, Frazier, Swarzak and Vargas will go from costing $30.5 million to almost $40 million. For that amount of money we could have signed two top tier free agents and filled the other holes just as well with internal pieces that would cost less and not be in the disabled list all year.
Short-sighted thinking had us trade away all pending free agents last year after we fell out of contention. True it made sense to part with Bruce, Addison Reed, Curtis Granderson, Lucas Duda and Neil Walker. But as we weren’t willing to pick up any portion of their contracts, we settled for marginal prospects in return and really accomplished nothing other than saving the owners a few bucks on payroll.
Granted it didn’t pan out in the end, but the one move the Mets made that made sense was the trade for AJ Ramos. At least it was made with an eye on the next season. If we’re going to hang on to, and hopefully commit long-term to, our top starting pitchers, as well as our emerging young players like Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, and Michael Conforto, then we have to think about how we can build around them now.
Most of our other veteran players are not tradeable. Jeurys Familia and Asdrubal Cabrera will likely get traded but will not bring much back in return unless we either package them or pay part of their remaining salary. Injuries and off-years have assured us of bringing back Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes and one of them is going to have to get a first baseman’s glove to make sure Nimmo, Conforto and Juan Lagares can stay in the lineup. If that’s the case, why can’t we think creatively about including diminishing asset Dominic Smith or future DH Peter Alonso in a deal? Maybe packaging one of them with Zack Wheeler could land us a reliable closer or athletic second baseman under contract for next season.
If the thinking is that Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are untouchable building blocks, what about Steven Matz? Where do we draw the line? Are Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman off-limits too? Surely those guys have value. If we’re stuck with Cespedes and Bruce and we’ve fallen in love with Nimmo, what about dangling Conforto and/or Lagares? Fan favorite Wilmer Flores has value as a bench player on a playoff team. The lineup, defense and bullpen are all going to have a lot of question marks heading into the off-season, especially once we trade away a few more players. Why not try to address a foreseeable need now? The law-firm sounding trio of Ricco, Ricciardi and Minaya better put their thinking caps on.