Here on the last day of January there are still plenty of good free agents available. Still, eight of the top 10 free agents from MLBTR are off the board and the top two players rumored to be available via trade have switched teams. So, it seems like a good time to check in on the Mets’ offseason plan and see if they could have allocated their funds and trade assets better.
First, we should note that an important component of the Mets’ offseason plan was to increase their 40-man roster depth. And no one can say that they didn’t do that. Sure, there’s still some bloat on the 40-man – Patrick Mazeika and Daniel Zamora jump immediately to mind – but it’s good to have a couple of players you can cut for when something better comes along. The problem with teams of the recent past is they had double digit number of guys who fit in this category.
The trouble with this type of depth is knowing who among the various people available to the role has the chance to turn into the next Max Muncy. A lot of people think highly of new addition Sam McWilliams but it’s not like there’s an MLB track record upon which to judge him as there is with the big free agents.
The offseason before 2019, the Mets signed and traded for a bunch of guys with MLB experience to provide depth. Among others, there was Aaron Altherr, Keon Broxton, Rajai Davis, Carlos Gomez and Adeiny Hechavarria. Each of those players got a chance and each was found to be pretty useless. When it comes to depth, being good in the majors on another team three years ago is no guarantee that you’ll be worthwhile.
So, let’s just agree that the Mets tried to upgrade their depth and on paper it looks better now than it did in the recent past.
For the major league roster, the Mets added seven players with a salary of at least $1 million for a total expenditure of $73.1 for the 2021 season. Some of these are players on a one-year deal and others have multiple years of control. For the purposes of this piece, we’ll only consider the upcoming season. The seven players are:
McWilliams and Jacob Barnes came in at less than $1 million while Joey Lucchesi is in his last year before arbitration. The Mets still have roughly $30 million before they hit the CBT and obviously things will be a lot different if they end up signing Trevor Bauer. But assuming Bauer signs elsewhere, should fans be happy with the offseason? Let’s take a position-by-position look.
Catcher – The Mets felt the need to act early here, afraid to be shut out of getting one of their top choices at a thin position. By most estimates – MLBTR had him getting just a two-year deal while the Mets gave him four – they overpaid to get McCann. In a vacuum that might not be too bad. But there were rumors that J.T. Realmuto was eying the richest contract ever for a catcher. Instead, he signed a 5/$115 deal, which is in the ballpark but probably for fewer dollars than many anticipated. Would the Mets have been better off going after Realmuto, who has a much longer track record of success than McCann? There were rumors that Realmuto did not want to play in New York, so it’s likely it would have taken more dollars to get him. So, would you have preferred the Mets to get him at 5/$130? My preference is to avoid long-term deals with catchers already on the wrong side of 30. And that preference is buttressed with the knowledge that one of the club’s top prospects is a catcher. My plan was to try to entice Realmuto with a short-term deal with a high AAV. Five years was past my comfort level. Actually, four years with McCann is too long for me but it will be easier to cut him or trade him while paying the other team to take him at $12 million than the $25 million or so that Realmuto will pull down in the final years of his deal.
Infield – The Mets traded for Lindor. You could argue they needed a third baseman more than they needed a shortstop. Would they have been better off trading for Nolan Arenado or going out to get DJ LeMahieu? This one’s not so easily answered, at least not for me. Lindor is younger and plays a more important defensive position. The cost to get him wasn’t too bad and the fact they got Carrasco is a huge consideration. But the cost to get Arenado was even less and he’s under contract while the Mets still need to come to terms with Lindor on a long-term deal. From a total value standpoint, is Lindor/J.D. Davis better than Arenado/Andres Gimenez?
For what it’s worth, ZiPS projects Lindor/Davis to amass 5.9 fWAR, with Lindor pulling down a 5.1 mark. It has Arenado/Gimenez at 4.9, with Arenado producing a 3.8 mark. My opinion is that ZiPS is overvaluing Lindor and undervaluing Davis and Arenado. Finally, ZiPS has LeMahieu at a 4.2 fWAR this season.
The only pitcher who could swing the pendulum for me is Bauer. Could the Mets have made an Arenado/Bauer combo rather than a Lindor/Carrasco one? That’s far from certain. There are so many potential combinations the Mets’ offseason could take if they traded for Arenado instead of Lindor. As a big fan of Carrasco – and not quite so much of a Josh Wolf fan – ultimately, it’s hard to wish the Mets had gone in a different direction here.
Starting Pitching – Stroman and Carrasco combined will make roughly the same that Bauer will sign for eventually. It’s hard to prefer Bauer and 32 starts compared to 60 from the two guys the Mets signed. That’s not an anti-Bauer stance. It’s just that the Mets needed both quality and quantity and it looks like they got it.
Relief Pitching – The Mets wanted Brad Hand and could have grabbed him on waivers. But it happened during the transition from the Wilpons to Steve Cohen. It’s understandable why they didn’t claim him. Still, my opinion is that the new team of Cohen/Sandy Alderson should have been able to instruct Wilpon/Brodie Van Wagenen to select Hand on their behalf. However, once Hand reached free agency, he wanted to go some place where he had a good chance to be a closer. That wasn’t going to be the Mets.
The Mets did get May, no doubt with a good recommendation from Jeremy Hefner, his former pitching coach in Minnesota and who now holds the same position with the Mets. May’s likely content in a setup role. We know Hand wasn’t going to feel that way. Would Liam Hendriks have been okay coming in before the ninth inning? It’s tough to know how to evaluate how a pitcher’s preference for role might ultimately impact their performance when placed in a different spot.
You could make the argument that Justin Wilson plus another reliever is preferable to May and Loup – if they were to invest the savings into signing Bauer. And actually, the more consideration given to this, the more it appeals to me. At the end of the day, the Mets are open to criticism for how they handled shaping their pen for 2021. From missing out on Hand, non-tendering Chasen Shreve to keep Robert Gsellman, to the big deal for May – there’s some things that could backfire here on them.
Which brings us to the outfield.
Most people wanted/expected the Mets to sign George Springer. But the Mets’ interest apparently cooled once they executed the deal for Lindor. A switch-hitter, Lindor provided a righty bat to help balance the lineup against LHP, one of the main selling points for Springer. The other big thing, of course, is that Springer is a better defensive center fielder than Brandon Nimmo. But without any clarity on the DH issue, signing Springer would push a good bat to the bench, likely Dominic Smith.
If MLB had committed to the National League having the DH, my preference would have been to sign Springer even after adding Lindor. Had the Mets done this they would have had to let Michael Conforto leave as a free agent following the 2021 season. While Conforto is younger, Springer is better. And hopefully he would have been able to stay in center long enough for Pete Crow-Armstrong to make it to the majors.
But, the uncertainty of the DH makes passing on Springer okay for me. Especially given the 6/$150 deal he eventually got from Toronto.
Ultimately, the Mets have had a very productive offseason so far and it’s still a possibility they’ll be an addition or two to strengthen the team. Based on what they’ve done so far, my grade is an A-, with the handling of the bullpen being the biggest beef. You won’t get any argument from me if you think it’s a B+ since they didn’t get Springer. But any time you add quality and quantity to your starting rotation, a potential impact player at shortstop and a catcher trending upwards – that’s some good work.