Although the Mets had a disappointing 2020 season and missed the playoffs, MattyMets here feels like a winner. At long last, we have the deep-pocketed ownership this New York team with the world’s most awesome fans deserves.
You have to take the 2020 season with a grain of salt, not only because of the shortened season with weird rules, but because this team suffered a number of unexpected strokes of bad luck from injuries to opt-outs and off-years. In our last full season of play, we were right on the cusp of the playoffs, boasting a lot of talent and our best lineup since 2006. Unfortunately, the front office chose to let Zack Wheeler walk away for nothing. This, plus the injury to Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman‘s opt-out left our pitching staff too thin to compete in 2020, despite a deep, powerful offense. However, this eternal Mets optimist still thinks the foundation is in place and the blue and orange are just one smart off-season away from returning to contention. Here’s the plan.
Step 1: Rebuild the front office.
Bringing back Sandy Alderson, a smart, respected, and seasoned baseball man to lead the charge as President of Baseball Operations will be a good start for new owner, Steve Cohen. Next up is to cut our losses with the agent-turned-GM experiment and buy out Brodie Van Wagenen. Most of his moves were short-sighted, he gave away too much of our future and rolled the dice on the wrong pitchers. The right man for the job is someone who is bold, smart, and understands the real value of players, how today’s game is won, and what this team is missing. There are no shortage of quality candidates out there – the Brewers’ David Stearns, the A’s Billy Owens, the Indians’ Mike Chernoff, the Diamondbacks’ Jared Porter, and a few familiar options like J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta, among others. After settling on a GM and a direction for this team, next up is to build up a robust analytics department to put this organization on the same playing field as the Braves, Dodgers and other teams who’ve found sustained success in this decade.
Step 2: Resolve in-house issues.
The front office needs to make some quick decisions regarding players up for free agency, facing options or getting too expensive in arbitration. The good news is that most of the core is under contract. Starting with the offense, it’s time to move on from Wilson Ramos. A $1.5 million buyout seems like a steal compared to his $10 million option. He doesn’t hit home runs anymore and the lead-footed, weak-fielding catcher is not worth near that amount of money for whatever singles he hits, especially in a year with some good free agent catchers available. The Mets have a similar situation with the recently acquired Robinson Chirinos as he is due to make $6.5 million, unless they buy him out for $1 million. They should let him walk away too. Tomas Nido is a fine backup and the Mets can always bring back Rene Rivera or a reasonable facsimile to help fill in.
Todd Frazier will cost the Mets either a $5.75 million option or a $1.5 million buy out. I may be alone in this, but, depending on how the chips fall, I’d consider bringing him back. He’s a great clubhouse presence, and a good third baseman who still hits for power and he allows us to play Jeff McNeil primarily at second and minimize the number of innings J.D. Davis sees ta third. Jed Lowrie is a straight up free agent and as much as it stings to have gotten nothing out of that contract, at least there’s no buyout necessary. Jake Marisnick is also a free agent who did not give us any ROI in 2020 so, adios.
On the pitching front, Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha are all free agents. Wacha and Porcello were bad signings and should be allowed to walk. As for Stroman, more on that later. Among relievers, Justin Wilson is a free agent who should be resigned. Two years, $12 million should get it done. Dellin Betances has a $6 million player option or a $3 million buyout. This one is out of the Mets hands, but it’s safe to assume, after the lousy year he had, that he’ll opt in for the $6 million and try to prove he can still pitch. Righties Brad Brach and Jared Hughes are also free agents and, after mediocre years, they can take their business elsewhere. Brach has a modest player option, but will likely walk away from it. Robert Gsellman and Steven Matz are not free agents, but are both coming off disgusting seasons and are getting pricy in arbitration. Both could use a change of scenery.
At the same time, the Mets need to work on a long-term contract for Michael Conforto. Home grown stars should not walk away for nothing from New York teams. Conforto is coming off a great season and entering his walk yea.r The new, smarter ownership/leadership will make sure we don’t make that mistake again.
Step 3: Take an aggressive approach to free agency.
The Mets number one target should be catcher J.T. Realmuto. Upgrading from the plodding Ramos to an athletic catcher who can frame pitches, throw out runners, hit for power, run the bases, and provide leadership would be the most impactful move the Mets could make and it’s worth an overpay. Despite reports that Realmuto could command a $200 million contract, something on the order of 6-years/$150 million seems more realistic. Yes, he’s the consensus “best catcher in baseball.” but that’s by default. He doesn’t have an MVP trophy and three World Series rings like Buster Posey or an MVP and a batting title like Joe Mauer. A better comparison is Yadier Molina. He’s not Johnny Bench, but signing Realmuto would improve the Mets lineup, defense, and pitching. For this reason, the Mets need to treat signing him like the Yankees did Gerrit Cole last off-season and just jump right in with the big offer and not give anyone else a chance, even if it means eating the last year or two of his deal.
The Mets biggest area of need is clearly starting pitching. While many on this blog are pining for Trevor Bauer, MattyMets disagrees. He’s a pain in the ass. Read the book The MVP Machine (Thanks BK for lending it to me) and you’ll see that he does not play nice in the sandbox. His insistence on one-year contracts may have less to do with his arrogance and more to do with his wearing out his welcome. With an improved defense (more on that in a bit), to better handle all those groundballs he induces, bringing back Stroman makes sense. He can handle New York and he’s a gamer. He makes a solid number two behind Jacob deGrom and five years/$100 million should get it done.
With David Peterson slotted in the fifth starter spot and Noah Syndergaard due back by Memorial Day, the Mets still need at least one more starting pitcher. The good news is that free agency is teeming with mid to back rotation options. Some interesting options that won’t be too expensive include Kevin Gausman, Mike Minor, Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton, Robbie Ray, Drew Smyley, Julio Teheran, and Tajuan Walker. The best play here might be to wait it out as it’s a buyers’ market and, given the economic circumstances, many teams will be pinching pennies this off-season. In the end, the Mets should try to grab two from this list with the plan to move one of them to the bullpen when Syndergaard comes back. Ray would be a great candidate for that as he’s a big strikeout guy who could benefit from short bursts out of the pen. My guess is Ray could be had for three years, $45 million, and Gausman could be had for two years, $20 million.
With the rotation set, it’s time to look at the bullpen. With Edwin Diaz, Seth Lugo, Jeurys Familia, Betances, Wilson, Chasen Shreve, Miguel Castro, and Drew Smith in the fold, there aren’t a lot of vacancies. With Lugo back in the pen and Ray set to join him a little later in the season, the pen should be strong enough and an upgrade can always be added in July.
The Mets could really use a centerfielder, but with so much money going to Realmuto and Stroman, signing George Springer is not realistic. However, Joc Pederson is. The former Dodger hits home runs, can play centerfield and allows Brandon Nimmo to shift to left field. It makes for an all-lefty outfield, but we could also sign someone like Kevin Pillar to fill in. He fits the bill as a cheap, right handed centerfielder and can be had on a one-year deal for $3 million. The righty J.D. Davis can also fill in at left field when needed.
Step 4: Let’s make a deal.
Signing Realmuto and Stroman is splashy, but the way the Mets can really win the back pages and the NL East, is through a trade. The stars are in alignment. The Mets have good players out of position and a few players who need a change of scenery. At the same time, payroll is not a major concern and several teams will be looking to cut payroll. Two superstar players could be available this off-season – shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Nolan Arenado. Either player would improve the Mets offense and defense. They both have Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers and are in their prime. Could a package of Andres Gimenez, J.D. Davis, Matz, Gsellman and a minor leaguer or two get it done? It’s worth a shot.
More realistically, the Mets send Robinson Cano back to the Yankees to finish out his Hall of Fame career in pinstripes. We might have to include cash to offset his salary some (say, the $3.5 million owed to us by Seattle) and in return we’d get marginal prospects, but more importantly, we save money that can be better spent elsewhere and open up second base for Jeff McNeil, DH for Pete Alonso, and first base for Dominic Smith. With Frazier at third, Gimenez at short, and Realmuto behind the plate, the Mets defense would be light years better. In another small but smart move, the Mets send Steven Matz and Robert Gsellman to the pitching starved Angels, Orioles, or Red Sox in exchange for pitching prospects so we can plant some seeds on that barren farm.
This off-season activity would lead the 2021 Mets roster to look like this:
Brandon Nimmo LF – league minimum
Jeff McNeil 2B – league minimum
JT Realmuto C – 25 million
Michael Conforto RF – 15 million
Pete Alonso DH – league minimum
Dominic Smith 1B – 3 million
Joc Pederson CF – 10 million
Todd Frazier 3B – 5.75 million
Andres Gimenez SS – league minimum
Jacob deGrom – 35.5 million
Marcus Stroman – 20 million
Robbie Ray – 15 million
Kevin Gausman – 10 million
David Peterson – league minimum
Noah Syndergaard – 11 million (IR)
Buyouts – Ramos and Chirinos – 2.5 million
3.5 million from the Mariners (sent to Yankees with Cano)
This off-season activity would put the Mets opening day payroll at $204 million, a notable increase, but still beneath the expected $210 million luxury tax threshold. This team would be much better defensively and a little better offensively with pitching good enough to keep them in games. This is a better than .500 team that could kick it into a higher gear and make a serious playoff run when Syndergaard rejoins the rotation and Ray shifts to the bullpen.