About a month and a half after New York City held a ticker tape parade for the 1986 World Series Champion New York Mets, the organization made what would later appear to be the only major acquisition of the 1986 offseason (they would also acquire David Cone that offseason, but it wasn’t viewed as a major move at the time) when they traded Kevin Mitchell and a group of prospects to the Padres for Kevin McReynolds, a relief pitcher and a prospect that never made it to the major leagues.
The trade was a classic move by an organization looking to bolster an already talented roster by looking for an upgrade in a position of need. McReynolds was a very good, but not great player for the Mets over his first five years on the club before being part of the trade that brought Brett Saberhagen to the organization exactly five years later.
Why bring up McReynolds when talking about the 2021-2022 offseason? Well for two reasons. One was that the Mets made the McReynolds trade because the organization felt like it needed outfield help to further bolster the franchise. McReynolds was also in his prime and had just come off of his best season in the majors, when he hit 26 home runs and knocked in 96 runs, numbers he virtually repeated his first two seasons as a Met. The outfield is the most obvious place that the Mets need to add talent in the 2021-2022 offseason, which leads to the second reason for the comparison. The Mets need talent, but they don’t need a player like McReynolds, they need someone better.
The Mets failed in 2021 for one simple reason: run production. To counteract that in 2022, the Mets need to add at least one established bat. The Mets own free agent, Michael Conforto, is a player available to fill that role, but Conforto is more McReynolds than he is Darryl Strawberry. The McReynolds trade worked because the team had a core of Strawberry, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez to carry the load. McReynolds didn’t need to be the star, he needed to be a very good complementary part. Conforto has had some seasons where he seemed to be a star, but the back of his baseball card doesn’t lie and for the most part Conforto appears to be a very good, complementary player. The 2021 Mets needed him to be better than that and he wasn’t. The proof is in what happened to the Mets run production when they acquired a more dangerous bat at the trade deadline in Javier Baez.
Baez played 47 games for the New York Mets, of which he started and completed 44 of them. In those games, the Mets averaged 4.2 runs per contest. In the other 118, they averaged 3.8 runs per game. 0.4 runs doesn’t seem like a huge margin, but if the Mets had averaged that over the course of the entire season, the teams run differential would have changed from negative 32 to plus 12. That wouldn’t have won the division, but it would have led to over .500 baseball, instead of a team that finished 8 games under .500.
Is Baez the answer? Possibly, but he would cause a bit of a log jam on the infield. At this point, one has to assume that Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor are fixtures at their positions. Alonso because of his elite power and Lindor because of his plus bat, defense and 10 year contract. By giving Baez big money, the Mets would be locking into three spots on the infield for at least the next five years. What does that mean for the likes of Robinson Cano and Jeff McNeil or prospects Ronnie Mauricio, Brett Baty and Mark Vientos? A good front office doesn’t just add talent, it adds talent in places of weakness. Where are the Mets weak? Not on the infield, but in the outfield.
The only impact player currently in the Mets outfield is Brandon Nimmo and his impact is mostly as a leadoff hitter. He is elite in that capacity though, having OBPs over 400 the last two seasons and is even better in pure leadoff situations (leading off a game and leading off an inning). In 2021, Nimmo had 921 OPS and 421 OBP when leading off a game and a 1025 OPS and 457 OBP when leading off an inning. It’s for these reasons that extending Nimmo this offseason is a vital part of the offseason plan.
Beyond Nimmo though, all the Mets really have is a hope that Vientos or Baty can become a solid enough outfielder and translate their minor league bats to similar success in the majors. Dominic Smith spent a lot of time in left field last year, but has not progressed with the bat in the way that the team hoped when the Mets picked him 11th overall in 2013. Kevin Pillar is a fourth outfield, possible platoon player and McNeil is slated to become the team’s Mark DeRosa. So how do the Mets add a player that could have the same impact as Baez in the outfield? By signing Kyle Schwarber.
Schwarber and the Red Sox have a mutual 10 million dollar option on his contract, but there is no way he’s going to take it. Schwarber will be 29 at the beginning of 2022 and offers elite power. His per 162 game average for his career is 37 home runs and a slugging percentage of 493. Yes, he strikes out a lot, but he also boasts a walk rate of around 13%. Just imagine what a middle of the order of Alonso and Schwarber would look like? Two elite power hitters, one from the right, one from the left, back to back in the order? Teams would find that matchup very difficult, especially with the switch hitting Lindor in front of them and the high OBP Nimmo at the top of the lineup. Schwarber has never been a great defender in leftfield, but he has made himself serviceable and has a strong arm (he was brought up through the minors as a catcher). With the designated hitter appearing to be a foregone conclusion for the National League soon, he could also slide to that position to make room for Vientos and Baty, while also not blocking Mauricio’s ascent to the future of the Mets at second base.
The Mets should add to the offense beyond that, but it could be just bringing back the likes of Jonathan Vilar, who can play multiple positions and come off the bench if necessary. With Vientos knocking on the door and Baty and Mauricio not far behind, the Mets have reinforcements coming. Khalil Lee struggled in his cup of coffee in the majors this year, but showed intriguing power and on base skills in Triple-A and could also be in the mix in the outfield, making multiple moves beyond Schwarber not as important.
What about improving other aspects of the team? The Mets do need to resign a few players. Aaron Loup should definitely be brought back and the Mets need to strongly consider bringing back Marcus Stroman. The Mets need another accomplished starter. The team should take a long, hard look at Kevin Gausman because of the uncertainty surrounding Jacob deGrom, but if his price tag goes too far or he shows little interest in moving back to the east coast, Long Island native Stroman should be the guy. Gausman has been more of an ace the last two years as he finally appears to have grown into the potential that made him the 4th overall pick in 2012, but Stroman has been the much more consistent pitcher, even if he’s not a number 1 starter. The Mets also need to bring back Noah Syndergaard, a match that seems predestined. Syndergaard has pitched 2 innings in two years due to Tommy John surgery, so his market should be very minimal. The Mets should try to get him to agree to a short term deal (2 years and an option) that could work out to the same amount of money he’d get from the qualifying offer, but if necessary, give him the QO and see what he can do.
Obviously the Mets should explore a trade for someone like Jose Ramirez, but the goal of the offseason should be to augment the team while not sacrificing an already weak farm system. Ramirez is a game changing bat and probably very available this offseason, but he will create a massive dent in the minor league system unless the Mets can convince the Indians to take a shot on hoping that Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis simply require new homes to reach their potentials and thus lessen the prospect load. Whether it’s a Ramirez trade or part of a package for a lesser player, the Mets really need to move on from Davis and Smith. Davis is more of a DH and Smith is a first baseman playing left field because of Alonso’s presence on the team. Both are young and controllable with intriguing potential that don’t really fit the current and future roster. Moving both for prospects, pitching or in a larger, more impactful trade, needs to happen.
The Mets were in first place a long time in 2021 and collapsed historically to end up 8 games under .500. They need a new front office more than anything, but this is also not a team that needs a full scale rebuild. The team could very easily compete for the division next year and if deGrom is healthy, could very easily be competitive in the playoffs. The new front office needs to be smart in adding players that can enhance the roster while not continuing the recent trend of a clunky and ill fitting roster that Sandy Alderson inherited prior to the 2021 season. But that’s just for next year. It’s time that the Mets find some consistency. That means building for next year, but also doing the same for the next 10 years. The team has some intriguing prospects coming on offense, but nothing pitching wise for a few years. That’s a problem. The farm system is missing 3 of the last 4 first round picks and outside of Francisco Alvarez, has not recently added an intriguing international prospect to make up for that. That’s a problem.
How have certain teams remained competitive, regardless of the payroll of the team? By building from within and not relying totally on free agency or trades. The Dodgers have a massive payroll, but are also buoyed by homegrown players. The Rays have created a culture in Tampa that is built upon drafting, developing and trading players before their expense becomes greater than their output. Baseball is no longer the league where a team can buy a championship, like the Yankees did in 2009.
The McReynolds acquisition prior to 1987 is what good teams do to bolster long term relevancy. That 1980’s team was the last time the Mets were consistently competitive for a number of years. We all know that only resulted in one championship and one other postseason appearance, but every year from 1984 until 1990, the Mets fans felt like the team had a chance. The Mets need to do more than add a McReynolds this year, but if the team makes the right choices this offseason, maybe adding a McReynolds next year is the final step to a championship.