So far, you’ve seen five writers at the site tackle the question of what the 2021 Opening Day roster for the Mets will look like. We all want to make moves to improve the club and now armed with an owner who seemingly is willing to spend money, it opens up opportunities that might not have been there otherwise. But it’s virtually an impossible task, predicting what potential trades and free agent signings could happen with essentially a universe of one, the guy writing the column. That’s what made the GM Project that we did a few years back so good. There you weren’t operating in a vacuum. Instead, you had 30 people making decisions in the best interests of their vision for their assigned team.
But that’s not what we have now. So, let’s try to move on the best we can. First, let’s acknowledge that all pieces of an offseason are inter-related and what happens in one area can and will influence what you do in another. Second, while you want to prioritize needs – that doesn’t mean that you tackle those needs in that order. If a deal comes along that can solve perfectly, say, your third problem, you make that move without waiting to solve the higher-rated issues first. Because that perfect solution may not be available if you wait for its turn in the order to arrive.
In my mind the main issue is the rotation. Nothing else comes close. And after a pretty big chasm the next need is catcher. And there’s another canyon from catcher to whatever comes next, whether that’s a RH bat or a CF or a bullpen piece. You may think that a bullpen piece rates higher but the Mets are fairly locked in with their relievers if the two guys with player options exercise them, as is expected. Since it’s been brought up, let’s look at the bullpen first.
Returnees from 2020 – Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Miguel Castro, Chasen Shreve
Expect to pick up player option – Dellin Betances, Brad Brach
Also in the picture somehow – Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Steven Matz, Drew Smith
Justin Wilson is a free agent and seems like a good guy to potentially bring back. Hopefully, he’s enjoyed his time in Queens and is agreeable to a reunion. Then, interestingly, this is where an ownership that isn’t pinching pennies can come into play. Previously, you’d expect them to retain Gsellman because he’s cheap and has a shot of being serviceable. But being cheap isn’t enough and what are the odds that Gsellman reverts back to his 2016 form? He should be non-tendered. Matz might have joined him if the Wilpons were still in power. It’s hard to justify a contract of $5 million or so on a guy who was outright terrible last year. But $5 million shouldn’t be a deal breaker for Steve Cohen, especially for a guy who returned $13.1 million of value in 2019. Consider him this year’s Michael Wacha – a low-cost upside gamble as a swing man. And hopefully one they won’t give too much rope. Finally, there’s one more chance for Cohen to flex his financial muscle. He can release Familia and remove the temptation for the manager to use him in a high-leverage spot. It’s kind of heartless to do this to a guy who came up through the organization. But the last thing we need to do is romanticize the past.
Now, let’s look at the starters.
The big question is if the Mets need two or three starting pitchers. Are you willing to gamble on the quirkiness of Trevor Bauer, who has never endeared himself to his teammates, has gotten into Twitter wars with former players and college students and who allegedly is only interested in signing one-year deals to maximize his value? Do you go after Marcus Stroman, who might be the second-best pitcher available but one who opted out on his teammates once he had the service time to become a free agent? Do you target Masahiro Tanaka, despite his declining velocity and partial UCL tear? Do you roll the dice on Taijuan Walker, a once-heralded prospect who’s never exceeded a 2.5 fWAR but who is angling for a big deal given his youth and untapped upside? Do you fancy Robbie Ray, who has outstanding stuff but may be a reliever waiting to happen? Or do you want to bank on comebacks from a veteran like Mike Minor or Jake Odorizzi or Jose Quintana? There are a lot of choices and none of them are really ideal. The best path here might be a trade.
Now let’s look at the catching.
The Mets have an option on Wilson Ramos but it’s really hard to envision him coming back. They also have an option on Chirinos that seems too high but maybe they liked him and they’d work something out. Nido will be entering his last pre-arb season but is out of options. The best free agent available is a catcher, which might be exactly what the doctor ordered in J.T. Realmuto, who has been good both offensively and defensively. But he will be looking for a monster contract and will probably get both dollars and years. Plus, one of the Mets’ best prospects is a catcher. And while Francisco Alvarez is probably 2-3 years away, do you want to sign Realmuto to a five-year deal, especially with how catchers age? Are you willing to give him a giant AAV on a two-year contract? Would you be willing to go 2/$70, giving him enough to make passing up a five-year deal worthwhile? Or do you want to go with James McCann, who might be this year’s version of free agent class of 2018 Ramos? Or do you look to go with a veteran defensive guy, like Jason Castro or Mike Zunino (in the unlikely event the Rays don’t pick up his option) or even Yadier Molina?
Now let’s look at the rest of the offense.
Returnees from 2020 – Pete Alonso, Robinson Cano, Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, Andres Gimenez, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, Dominic Smith
Also in the picture somehow – Luis Guillorme, Guillermo Heredia
The Mets’ offense in 2020 was really good. Which makes it surprising just how many questions surround this group going forward. Will the designated hitter return in 2021? All indications seem like that will be the case. That makes things a little easier but it still leaves questions. Who do you utilize at DH? Is it Alonso with Smith as the 1B? Is it Cano, with McNeil as the 2B? Is it Davis, with McNeil as the 3B? And how do you handle SS? Is a platoon situation between Gimenez and Rosario tolerable? And how big of a priority is it to get a good defensive CF in the lineup? And the ultimate question, assuming the DH returns, is: How do you fit nine guys for eight spots, when none of them result in a good defensive lineup?
Now let’s look at trades.
This is a thankless task. Whatever trade you might dream up, someone will tell you that you’re not giving up enough to get the guy you’re targeting or you’re massively overpaying for someone. But the trade targets are clear – a top of the rotation starter, a mid-rotation starter, catcher, defensive center fielder who’s not a zero offensively, a late-inning reliever and maybe even a third baseman. It’s just what are you willing to give up to get those type of guys.
And the trouble with fake trades is that we can never know other teams like we know the Mets. At best, we can make guesses as to where these other teams are on the success cycle and how highly they think of their prospects and how willing they might be to move a player on their major or minor league roster.
Do the Nationals consider themselves rebuilding and would they like to get out from their $34 million obligation to Max Scherzer? Would it be worth trading Smith to get him?
Do the Indians feel like they have enough pitching to address their woeful outfield, which didn’t have one guy post even a .700 OPS this past season? Would they take on Conforto’s upcoming deal for Zach Plesac?
Do the Dodgers feel like they have the catching depth to trade one of their two young backstops? Do they consider Victor Gonzalez a key member of their bullpen or is he available in the right deal? Would they trade Keibert Ruiz and Gonzalez for Alvarez, Lugo and Thomas Szapucki?
My feeling is that the new GM absolutely has to test the trade market. And the guys to shop are Conforto and Smith because they are coming off monster years that they’re unlikely to match, much less exceed, going forward. You listen on Alonso and McNeil and you’re willing to trade anyone in the farm as long as you’re getting something better than a reliever coming back in the deal, no matter how much you like the reliever.
Above you can see some of the deals that would be appealing to me. But that doesn’t mean the other team would like them or even consider making a counter. It just seems foolish to include trades given this great unknown. The unknowns for free agents are hard enough to deal with without adding a much greater degree of difficulty to the conversation.
So, everything you read next in this piece is done with the understanding that a) no trades are included. And b) trades should absolutely be considered by the real GM. With that out of the way, here’s how my offseason would unfold:
A – Non-tender Gsellman and Paul Sewald, buy out Ramos and Chirinos, tender all other arb-eligible players, DFA Familia
B – Feel out Realmuto on a two-year deal
C – Re-sign Wilson
D – Target two SP in this order of preference: Walker, Odorizzi, Stroman, Bauer, Minor, Quintana, Tanaka, Ray, Porcello
E – If necessary, target C in this order – Zunino, McCann, Castro, Molina
F – If the budget allows, look at Justin Turner on a one or two-year deal
With those as my touchstones, here’s one way a 26-man Opening Day roster for 2021 for the Mets could shake out.
SP – deGrom, Walker, Peterson, Porcello, Lugo
RP – Diaz, Wilson, Castro, Betances, Brach, Shreve, Smith, Matz
C – Castro, Nido
INF – Alonso, Cano, McNeil, Turner, Gimenez, Rosario
OF – Smith, Nimmo, Conforto, Davis, Heredia
In this case, McNeil’s at 2B, Turner at 3B, there’s the same SS platoon as this year, Smith’s in LF and Cano & Davis platoon at DH. If and when Syndergaard is ready to come back, whoever the weak link at starter goes to the bullpen and whoever the weakest reliever is goes to the minors or is released.
Both Franklyn Kilome and Corey Oswalt are out of options. The hope is that one of them makes it back to the team to function as a depth starter at Triple-A. There’s also Matz for this role in the bullpen and someone will have to be picked up on an NRI to act as a potential MLB rotation option in Syracuse. Maybe Ariel Jurado and Szapucki have an option left and can slot in this space, too. It’s my belief you need four depth starters. Syndergaard will be one, Matz will be another and you need two more. The specific names don’t interest me too much at this point. Just put it on the list to be done.
So, where does this leave our budget? The 26-man would be roughly $192.5 million and then you add in the money for Familia, Ramos and Chirinos and you have another $14 million. Finally, Seattle will be sending $3.5 million to cover its part of Cano’s deal. So, this roster would be in the neighborhood of $203 million.
What do we get for the money? Our top SP target (4/$72) and a veteran hurler (1/$10) who has already experienced pitching in Boston and New York. We also get a catcher (1/$8) with one of the top defensive reputations around. We add a big RHB to the lineup at 3B (2/$30) and a lefty (2/$16) who has been solid for the pen the past two seasons and one not fazed by the three-batter minimum.
Is it enough? As we saw this season, it depends on what the starters give. And hopefully a veteran defensive catcher can help get the best out of the pitching staff. It feels like we should get more bang for the buck. And that’s why the trade market is so important. It’s going to be hard to fill all of the needs from a free agent class that doesn’t feel particularly strong.
What if the Mets did the Indians and Dodgers trades outlined above? They would subtract the salaries for Conforto, Wilson and the catching Castro – leaving them around $30 million to go after George Springer. That would make the rotation: deGrom, Walker, Plesac, Peterson and Porcello. The bullpen would be the same except swapping out Wilson for Gonzalez. The lineup becomes:
RF – Nimmo
CF – Springer
LF – Smith
1B – Alonso
2B – McNeil
3B – Turner
DH – Cano/Davis
SS – Gimenez/Rosario
C – Ruiz
That’s great left/right balance with likely no dropoff offensively swapping Conforto for Springer and a better defensive alignment. But signing Springer doesn’t make much sense unless you trade an OF. And making it the highest-paid one allows you to still go after a top pitcher. It’s a gamble on Ruiz but he’ll have the advantage of not needing to contribute much offensively right away.
The nice thing about this team is the number of pre-arb players it would have. There’s Ruiz, Alonso, McNeil, Gimenez, Plesac, Peterson, Gonzalez and Smith. Maybe eight pre-arb players all by itself isn’t all that impressive but that’s 3.5 starting position players and two members of the starting rotation.
This would be a fun team to watch.