Oct 21, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; View of a base with the postseason logo before game seven of the 2017 ALCS playoff baseball series between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Sandy Alderson had a press conference on Monday. Nothing really unexpected or particularly noteworthy on the surface happened. But anytime Alderson speaks at length, there are always things that jump out. To me, the most interesting thing that he said was the following:

“I don’t think we’re a player away. I think we need more than that. Do we have a good foundation? Yes. I think we have an excellent foundation.”

Did anyone think that the Mets were just a player away? It seems to me that most fans were advocating for the club to sign Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto and George Springer not just because Steve Cohen has the money to do it but because all three of those guys address holes in the current roster. The rotation is thin, there’s not a starting catcher currently on the team and the center field defense last season was not good.

The 2019 Braves won the division for the second straight year and amassed 97 Wins. In the offseason they imported Travis d’Arnaud, Cole Hamels and Marcell Ozuna. If a 97-win team felt it necessary to make three significant moves – why would anyone think a team that was on pace for a 70-win season was just a player away?

The real question is: Can the Mets bring in the necessary players in one offseason to address enough needs to be a serious playoff contender?

And the answer to that likely depends on if you think they’re closer to the 86-win team they were in 2019 compared to the 70-win pace they played at last season. The big difference is that the 2020 squad was down three starting pitchers from the previous year. Right now, they’re down one or two pitchers, depending on how much, if any, Noah Syndergaard is able to contribute in 2021.

The Mets essentially had six pitchers who started the vast majority of games for them in 2019, as deadline deals sent out Jason Vargas and brought in Marcus Stroman. Those six starters combined for 19.8 fWAR. How far away are the current Mets from that total? If they add Bauer and he pitches like he did in 2020 over an entire season, you’d have to think they were pretty close

The 2019 bullpen essentially had two reliable relievers and a bunch of arsonists. How does the current pen compare? Hopefully Edwin Diaz and Seth Lugo can match what Lugo and Justin Wilson gave the 2019 team. And the rest of the current crop of relievers (he said hopefully) couldn’t be as bad as the rest of the ’19 pen.

The top nine hitters for the 2019 club combined for 23.6 fWAR. And that was with no one producing even a 5.0 fWAR season and four players failing to reach a 2.0 mark, including one that didn’t even reach a 1.0 season. Even without a starting catcher and the type of defensive lineup they would put out there with the current guys on the roster, it seems likely that the top nine position players in 2021 would be better than what the 2019 club had.

Let’s work with the assumption that signing Bauer would make up for Zack Wheeler and put the team on par with the 2019 club. That’s a mid-80s win total that’s not quite good enough to make the playoffs. How many additions do you have to make along with Bauer for it to become a low-90s win total that’s in serious running for the postseason?

Would an offseason that included Bauer, Realmuto and a reliever in the Brad Hand/Wilson level be enough? And that’s not the only potential path. You could look to sign two starters, a lesser catcher and Springer. Or make a trade for Nolan Arenado, sign a second-tier center fielder and two starters. There are multiple ways to get to the extra needed wins.

If you really believe that you have an “excellent foundation,” then there are ways to augment that in one offseason and be a legitimate playoff contender. That means making the right moves, enjoying reasonable health and enjoying a bit of good fortune along the way. Can Alderson make better offseason moves than Brodie Van Wagenen did last year when he spent money to bring in Rick Porcello, Dellin Betances, Jake Marisnick and Michael Wacha?

That’s an incredibly low bar but we have to remember that Alderson didn’t have great luck with free agent acquisitions his first go-round with the Mets. Of course, he’ll have more cash and fewer distractions to deal with this time around, which hopefully will lead to better outcomes.

The goal is to be like the Dodgers and have a 40-man roster that’s playoff caliber and that’s something the Mets can’t get to in one offseason. The Mets need the recent draft picks and international signings to move up the organizational ladder to get to that level, something that suffered a setback last year with no minor league season and Van Wagenen’s hesitancy/objection to putting top prospects on the 60-man roster where they could get hands-on instruction with top coaches.

The Dodgers have suffered a ton of injuries the past few seasons and are still in the playoffs year after year because of that depth. The Mets could hit a home run with their free agent signings and still not make the playoffs if they suffered bad fortune in the injury department. But in an era where money is not the issue that it has been for the past decade, it seems a mistake not to try to build a 25-man roster capable of making the playoffs for the chance it could blow up in your face if multiple guys get hurt.

17 comments on “How close are the Mets to playoff contention?

  • David Groveman

    I agree that the Mets need about four (4) players to become the world series contenders we want them to be. I do not know that the team needs the starting pitching acquisition to be Trevor Bauer. Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are all options.

    Assuming that the Mets need George Springer in either option I could see the Mets getting a better starting and signing a lesser (defensive-minded) catcher or spending big on Springer and Realmuto and adding someone cheaper to the rotation. I think I’d prefer Option 1 but the lineup in Option 2 is mighty tempting.

    Lineup: (Option 1)
    1. Brandon Nimmo, LF
    2. J.D. Davis, 3B
    3. Jeff McNeil, 2B
    4. George Springer, CF
    5. Michael Conforto, RF
    6. Pete Alonso, DH
    7. Dominic Smith, 1B
    8. James McCann or Yadier Molina, C
    9. Amed Rosario/Andres Gimenez, SS

    Lineup: (Option 2)
    1. Brandon Nimmo, LF
    2. George Springer, CF
    3. Jeff McNeil, 2B
    4. J.T. Realmuto, C
    5. Michael Conforto, RF
    6. Pete Alonso, DH
    7. Dominic Smith, 1B
    8. J.D. Davis, 3B
    9. Amed Rosario/Andres Gimenez, SS

    • TexasGusCC

      I love lineup #2.

    • Remember1969

      So I’m thinking you are saying that with lineup 1 you get a rotation of
      deGrom
      Bauer
      Stroman
      Walker
      Peterson/Szapucki

      And with lineup 2 you get a rotation of
      deGrom
      Stroman
      Odorizzi
      Walker
      Peterson/Szapucki

  • NMK

    Your question isn’t specific enough. If the question is are the Mets close enough to win in 2021, the answer is yes with some key offseason acquisitions. If the question is can they win in 2021 with major injuries and in the future, that depends on more moves and decisions. However, they can still beef up analytics and make smart draft choices while embracing the core they have for a present run. LFGM

    • Brian Joura

      I’m pretty sure TFA made that distinction already.

  • Pete

    I’ve always been a proponent of Arenado Brian. I guess it depends how bad the Rockies finances are. If it’s a money dump swing the deal. If Cohen wants to make a splash then go after Tout using Alonso as a foundation for a trade. Move Smith back to first base. If Thor comes back in May you only need one SP. Bauer fits that bill. There are going to be a lot of FA’s this off season. By my count there are already over 250 available. The only thing I ask is that Alderson refrain from dumpster shopping. I know its tempting but can you just try to break old habits please?. Cohen wants to win now.

  • Dan Capwell

    Sorry, but no cigar in 2021 either. I think next season is shaping up to be a transition year. I get the feeling that the guy Steve really wants running the team is Theo, but the latter has made it clear that he is sitting out the 2021 season. Also, there is that little matter of the contract he signed with the Cubs. So….

    Alderson serves as the placeholder this year. This is probably why it is taking so long to get a GM as the Mets are likely to be fully disclosing Sandy’s status to them. Who wants to work for a boss who is gone in one season? As an aside, this is also probably why they are keeping Rojas. Let Theo decide on a manager when he takes over.

    It doesn’t mean nothing will get done. I do see a Conforto extension, a Brad Hand signing and at least one new SP, just not Bauer. Rosario and Diaz are sent packing for multiple pieces as well.

    About a year from now, we’ll be listening in to Theo Epstein as he is introduced as the new President of Baseball Operations by thanking Sandy for his stewardship of the team in 2021.

    • Brian Joura

      Theo coming to the Mets is certainly a possibility but not one on which I’d wager. I guess I’d put it at 33% or so. Alderson will still be at the table and I’m not sure Theo will accept anything less than 100% control.

  • José

    “It seems to me that most fans were advocating for the club to sign Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto and George Springer”

    I see that Uncle Brian has been listening to the people… certainly the loudest and most petulant ones.

    Is it really too late to snag Theo E.?

    Ya know, an adult can truly be made giddy with glee

  • Mike W

    The Mets could be in contention next year, but that depends on a lot of factors. The Braves have already struck. The landed Morton on a one year deal for $ 15 million. How about Walker, McCann, and LeMahieu and a trade for Snell and Kiermaier. I know, I know, I sound like a broken record.

  • Chris F

    The first thing I cant get over is comparing a 60 game season playing teams in a reagion versus a 162 game NL season. I dont think the numbers are comparable at all.

    The Mets have 2 legit starters of value now. Peterson is not going to stick in the majors in my opinion. Cannot count on Syndergaard at all. So the Mets need three starters in the least. The I think you need a catcher, CF, and 3B.

    Is it possible that the team squeaks in as a WC, but its a couple seasons before this team looks fierce. I actually think Alderson and I see things pretty similarly, which scares the hell out of me.

    • TJ

      Chris,
      I agree with all your points, they are spot on. To that I would add that they need another back end bullpen arm, one that has closed and has a bunch of saves in the show. I believe that is seven quality additions in total. And, I see no reason why, in this market, with their resources, they cannot make those additions, without depleting the thinned out system or overcommitting in terms of future guaranteed contracts. What is critical is that they get value with every single signing…not Wilpon value based on lowball money, but value based on production vs spend.

  • Seattle Steve

    Without upgrading the starting pitching we will not contend…one pitcher to stay away from is Paxton….will be on the DL…always is…would not make any trades until we see who is not offered contracts for 2021 and see what free agents we are able to sign…we have the $$$$ and the agents no it.

  • footballhead

    I; for one, am not optimistic that the Mets will be competing for a playoff spot in 2021. Even if the Mets bring in Bauer, Realmuto, and Springer; and these three don’t collapse like previous imports have done, we still need at least two more front line SP (like Chris F noted). While everybody is looking forward to Thor coming back, who’s to say he will be effective?

    I also don’t think that limited resources during the reign of Wilpon was itself the major problem for this franchise. Money was spent, but not intelligently. Other teams with smaller budgets have made it to the playoffs…… I just haven’t seen the good scouting for smart draft picks, wise trades, and forward thinking, that makes one a consistent playoff contender from the front office.

    I know I sound like a gloomy Gus, but it’s going to take a productive off season for me to believe that this team has a chance for 2021.

  • Remember1969

    My $.02 . the answer to the question is IAD, my favorite answer for most questions. IAD stands for It All Depends. There are two angles: on paper, and on the field.

    I’ll start with the on paper view. They are a catcher and two solid starting pitchers away from being a playoff team. I am comparing them now to the second half of 2019, from the All Star break to October 1 when they certainly were a playoff caliber team. What is different? Pitching and a catcher. They actually are a much better team on paper today than much of their 2019 year. With Conforto, Alonso, McNeil, Davis, Nimmo, Smith, Gimenez/Rosario, they have the core to be pretty decent. They led the league in hitting in 2020, so offensively, they are not far.
    In 2H2019, they had deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, Stroman,, and Matz. That is a pretty decent rotation. Lugo was the glue to the bullpen in 2019, and Diaz has bounced back. So, replacing Thor, Wheeler, and Matz, while not easy might be doable and getting one or two more bullpen arms would help there. Realmuto or even McCann for a catcher and they have a team on paper that can be there with the rest of them. 2019 had a horrible supporting cast and bench offensively, but overall, a bit better defensive alignment with whoever was playing on any given night.

    Now, on the field. As stated, they were at the top of the league in batting average – they had a lot of runners. What was lacking was baserunning, hitting with runners in scoring position and good fundamental baseball. The were league average in hitting with RISP in 2019, league bottom in 2020. The defense was not good last year.

    So, can they turn around the ‘on the field’ component in a year? Maybe. I believe a signing like Springer will help the defense immensely. Playing McNeil at second base will help. Nimmo not being in center is a plus. That is the defense. Now, about that baserunning and hitting with RISP. Perhaps a better fundamentals and baserunning coach? Perhaps getting the hitting coach back to the dugout for the season? Hard to tell, but there certainly has to be more emphasis on that from the front office through the manager and on to each player.

    So, yes, they are in a position with Cohen (Cohen’s money) and with some moveable players to make the right signings and trades to fill the team in one offseason to become playoff contenders. But do they have the structure in place to play better baseball to get there? I am still confused about the 2020 letdown from the tremendous finish they had in 2019, where they won games they perhaps shouldn’t have. Good teams do that. Chemistry matters – they seemed to feed off each other in the stretch run of ’19, not sure about last year. Was Callaway underrated? Can Rojas get them gelled?

    I agree with others . . smart signings with value and a little good fortune can get it done.

  • NYM6986

    Great column. We often think that we are so close to being a good team and don’t see that good teams snatch victory from the jaws of defeat while we usually don’t. And when our teams have done well we often came from behind to win or had a field day at the plate. I like to believe that all teams will suffer injuries to star players and as noted in a lot of this great commentary, we have few players really ready to answer the bell. Alonso stepped right in and up in 2019, and forced out any other 1Bs on the roster. Gimenez showed some good flashes in the field and at the plate allowing for some wheeling and dealing from the SS position. And Dom Smith finally showed why he was drafted where he was; well we hope his 60 sample size will expand in 2021.
    The bottom line is that I feel that we can be knocking on the door with a few key additions. I like Springer for CF and would take McCann if JT can’t be convinced. I’m sure Cohen will open his checkbook and Alderson will actually have a shot at the premier players and not have to settle for paying a long past his prime pitcher or an infielder who left it all out on the field with a great season before he showed up in NY. They need to rebuild the infrastructure but I think with some breaks we can make the playoffs this year and then it often comes down to the hot hand. I want another ring but also to be in contention year after year.

  • Metsense

    To be a playoff team they need to have a pitcher every day that will keep them in the game so that the excellent offense can win the game. Sign two instead of one Bauer because they have no starting pitching depth . Tanaka, Odorizzi or Walker would work. They must improve the defense but not sacrifice offense. Springer should be the primary target. Realmuto at catcher would be a wish but McCann would fit well in the luxury tax and Molina would be a fall back and a band aid.
    There is no immediate depth in the minor leagues. Used the $20M Cano money for one year contracts to get a relief pitcher, bench outfielder and bench third baseman. With free agents and money it is feasible to make the playoffs.

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