The New York Mets are entering a new era. Steve Cohen is going to buy the team and should spend money. All signs point to Brodie Van Wagenen being removed from his post as general manager. The team has a lot of excellent young position players and has arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Jacob deGrom.
But as we’ve seen in the last 15 years, such concepts are fleeting with this organization. The 2006 Mets were the best team in baseball and if not for Yadier Molina, would have won the organization’s third World Series title that year behind the talents of two young stars in David Wright and Jose Reyes and a superstar veteran in Carlos Beltran. Three years later the Mets won 70 games. In 2015 the team made it to the World Series behind a young pitching staff that was arguably the best in baseball. Five years later, only deGrom remains at that level as all of the others have fallen off, are not on the team or are injured.
Even with the losing year in the Covid-19 shortened season of 2020, the Mets appear to be on the threshold of success. Dominic Smith and Michael Conforto came into their own as leaders and baseball players this year. Jeff McNeil is an intense player who maximizes every ounce of his ability, all while growing into the perfect super utility player, able to play everyday because he can fill in at second base, third base or a corner outfield spot. Despite not having as monumental a year as his rookie season, Pete Alonso showed that he is still a force by posting an .817 OPS and 16 home runs in only 239 plate appearances. Then there is deGrom, who will not win a third straight Cy Young award, but still lead the National League in strikeouts and posted his third consecutive ERA under 2.50.
That is what we call a foundation to build on, and the most promising one since probably that 2006 season. The difference though is that 2006 was built on a lot of veterans, which doesn’t always mean for long term success. The core of this team, outside of deGrom, are all in their young to mid-20’s. However, deGrom is the lynchpin to a championship. The Mets don’t have a stud pitcher like him in the system right now. The best pitching prospects the organization has are lower in the system and no one is currently projecting those players to be as good as deGrom. deGrom is a once in a lifetime player and is arguably the second-best pitcher in Mets history behind Tom Seaver.
2021 is such an unknown. Will Covid-19 impact the sport the way it did this year? Will baseball have to radically change to have a 162 game season again? Will the designated hitter really remain in the National League? How will Cohen use his money? Who will be the Mets general manager? Will Sandy Alderson really be team president again? The list goes on. Saying all of that, there is a road to greater success that could lead to a championship if it’s done right.
What needs to change?
The Mets have a major hole at catcher and in its pitching staff. Edwin Diaz seemed to find himself again this year, but the bullpen is still a bit of a mess and the starting rotation has at least two holes that need to be filled. On top of that, the team still needs a real center fielder.
So how do we build a roster to meet these needs and still retain the important pieces that the Mets have today?
The first step was what team options to pick up and what players would most likely pick up their options. The only option that was picked up was Robinson Chirinos, for several reasons. One reason is that he is only one year removed from being really good. Another is that he’s a plus defender with some power. He’s also only making 6.5 million dollars, which when coupled with not picking up Wilson Ramos’ option, saves the Mets some money to use elsewhere. Todd Frazier was an easy cut as well as why he was on the team in the first place is a bit of a mystery and he just doesn’t fit with what’s on the roster.
It should be expected that Dellin Betances and Brad Brach will pick up their perspective options. Both underperformed and probably won’t get the money on their contracts with the Mets that they would elsewhere. The Mets can walk away from Betances, but that would cost half of his salary, so it’s a better call for the Mets to hold on to him and hope he rebounds in his second year back from injuries.
These Mets also will give work out arbitration deals with most of their eligible players, except Paul Sewald. Sewald will probably make it through waivers and hopefully will accept a minor league deal, but he has proven to be a borderline major league pitcher and the Mets should move on. At this point a small trade would also be made regarding another arbitration eligible player when these Mets trade Robert Gsellman to the Indians for catcher Austin Hedges.
This is a classic new scenery trade for both players. Gsellman really struggled this year, but would be able to join a great pitching staff on which he could carve out a role as a bank end starter, swing man or middle reliever. Since he’s also pretty dirt cheap arbitration wise, it makes sense for the Indians. Hedges has been awful this year and has never live dup to his prospect billing, but he is a good defensive catcher that’s cheap and has power.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because this teams concept at catcher was to focus on defense and monetary value. These Mets could have signed J.T. Realmuto or James McCann, the top two catchers on the market, but both are over thirty and would require a legitimate investment. Realmuto will probably be 23 to 27 million a year and McCann will probably earn somewhere between 11 and 15 million a year. Both will also require long term contracts, which are very dangerous for catchers past thirty. These Mets will pass and will hope that Chirinos has something left in the tank and Hedges finds his way towards the stardom that had been predicted for him. At worst, the combo should hit 20 plus home runs and play excellent defense behind the plate, all for what will probably be approximately 10 million dollars, less than McCann would make and over half of what Realmuto will make.
Bauer seems to be ideal. A pitcher who wants short term deals to maximize his value. He could probably be had for a 1 year, 21 million dollar deal with a player option at that rate. He would be a classic number two starter and would create a stunningly good rotation if Noah Syndergaard returns healthy from Tommy John surgery during the season.
Springer is a ridiculously good player and the Mets will have to pay for him. In researching Springer and trying to get an accurate feel for his contract, it became apparent that the only really comparable players were Mookie Betts and Christian Yelich. That’s high praise and not hyperbole. Springer is an elite center fielder with a legitimate bat that plays at home and away. Despite playing in a hitters haven in Houston, his OPS is actually bad on the road for his career. He has hit over 30 leadoff home runs and is arguably the best leadoff hitter in baseball. He’s so good that he made 21 million in arbitration this year. He’s also from Connecticut and has expressed interest in playing in New York or Boston, so the interest is there. Again though, the Mets will have to pay. Best guess would be 5 years, 130 million with a player option for year 6. That figure comes from a comparison with Betts and Yelich. That makes his annually salary fall in between both players and ends his contract in the same age year as both, while also offering a player option. That’s a lot of money, but Springer is the type of talent that really fills needs on this team.
The pursuit of Springer was coupled with a different pursuit, the active desire to trade Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo is a really good offensive player and would have a spot on the team if not for Conforto, Smith and Alonso. Nimmo is a corner outfielder and has proven that he’s not a center fielder. His presence makes the team worse defensively and moving him to left or right would, by domino effect, take away at bat’s in some shape or form from those three young stars. In looking for a trade partner, the Padres seemed to make the most sense as he would be a cheap controllable piece who could slide into left field and give the team the leadoff hitter it needs. What would the Mets get back? It’s hard to tell, but the following trade seemed fair: Nimmo to the Padres for Adrian Morejon, Emilio Pagan and Greg Allen.
Pagan would immediately slide into the setup man role for Diaz and could close if Diaz falters. He also allows the Mets to keep Seth Lugo in the starting rotation. Morejon is a 21 year old flame throwing left hander who has good control. He had some success in the majors this year and could be a future part of the team that would probably start in Triple-A this year. Allen is a journeyman, under control, outfielder who can play all three spots and will be a nice reserve coming off of the bench as a defensive replacement, sport starter and pinch runner.
The Mets would also work to re-sign Justin Wilson, who pitched well for the Mets these past two years and take a shot on Taijuan Walker, who had a nice bounce back year, but will probably come cheap as he has had a very injury plagued career. This will also allow Steven Matz to move back into the bullpen or rotation, depending on his performance and not place such an onus on him, as was done when he pitched second in the rotation, lost his confidence quickly and had trouble regaining it.
All of that leaves us with the following 26 man roster:
Robinson Chirinos – 6.5 million
Austin Hedges – 3.5 million
Pete Alonso – league minimum
Dominic Smith – 3 million
Robinson Cano 24 million
Amed Rosario 2 million
J.D. Davis 2.5 Million
Jeff McNeil – league minimum
Luis Guillorme – league minimum
Michael Conforto Right Field – 15 million
George Springer Center Field – 26 million
Greg Allen Reserve – league minimum
Jacob deGrom – 35.5 million
Trevor Bauer – 21 million
Seth Lugo – 4 million
David Peterson – league minimum
Steven Matz – 5 million
Taijuan Walker – 6.5 million
Edwin Diaz – 10 million
Justin Wilson – 6 million
Emilio Pagan – league minimum
Jeurys Familia – 11.67 million
Dellin Betances – 6 million
Chasen Shreve – 2.5 million
Miguel Castro – 1.5 million
Brad Brach – 1.25 million
Noah Syndergaard – Injured reserve – 11 million
Buyouts totaling 3 million dollars for Frazier and Ramos
$3.5 million from the Seattle Mariners.
All of these moves put the Mets right up on the threshold of the 210 million dollar luxury tax, and until the new owner shows that he is willing to pay that luxury tax, 210 million should be used as a reasonable cap.
Is this team better? Yes. The starting staff is better and the bullpen is too with Pagan and a hopefully rejuvenated Betances. It’s also a defensively better team that will score more runs than they did last year. This team could compete for a league title or championship. Let’s just hope that Cohen proves that he can spend this way. deGrom deserves the chance at another postseason.