Mets General Manager Billy Eppler had his work cut out for him last off-season. Sure, it helped to have Steve Cohen’s checkbook at his disposal, but still, it was up to Eppler and his front office staff to determine which Mets free agents to bring back or cut loose, which league free agents they should pursue, and what trades they could make to improve the roster for 2022. Given that the team is in first place despite having our two best pitchers on the injured list, it’s easy to say Eppler did a good job.
It’s evident that our defense is improved with quality fielders like Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar and Luis Guillorme getting time in the field over the likes of out-of-position Dominic Smith, DH J.D. Davis, and aging Robinson Cano. It’s also evident that our offense has become more consistently good with the addition of players who make contact, strike out less, and can run the bases like Mark Canha, Marte and to some extent Travis Jankowski. Given how well Max Scherzer (before the injury) and Chris Bassitt have performed, it’s hard to argue with the front office’s decisions regarding the rotation.
However, even with Uncle Steve’s bank account, we couldn’t sign everybody. The bullpen was the one area we probably neglected more than we should have, letting Aaron Loup (4.33 ERA) walk to settle for the cheaper but not nearly as good Chasen Shreve (6.58 ERA), as one example. Could we also get a do-over on the ill-conceived trade of Miguel Castro (3.52 ERA) for Joely Rodriguez (4.76 ERA)? Andrew Chafin (2.95 ERA) looked like another lefty we could have gone after.
Many other available relievers, some of whom did not command big dollars, would look good in a Mets uniform right now. Lefties Brad Hand (2.31 ERA in Philadelphia), Jake Diekman (3.12 ERA in Boston), and Brooks Raley (2.22 ERA in Tampa Bay) each signed for very modest contracts. Other reasonably priced bullpen arms we could have easily snatched up included Joe Smith (2.78 ERA in Minnesota), Brad Boxberger (2.12 ERA in Milwaukee), Ian Kennedy (3.42 ERA in Arizona), David Robertson (1.86 ERA in Chicago), Alex Colome (2.54 ERA in Colorado) and Collin McHugh (3.19 ERA in Atlanta). At least letting Jeurys Familia (5.13 ERA in Philadelphia) walk is looking good.
The Mets bullpen is currently running on fumes. Closer Edwin Diaz is having a great season. Setup guys Adam Ottavino and Drew Smith have been pretty good, but the rest have mostly been injured or ineffective, so the bullpen needs to be the main focus at the trade deadline.
As for other players the Mets either jettisoned, shunned, or got stiff-armed by last off-season, let’s take a look to see if we made the right calls.
Noah Syndergaard shocked Mets fans when the gunslinger left town for a few dollars more. Out west, Thor has been just okay. He’s made 12 starts to the tune of a 3.86 ERA and 1.179 WHIP over 65.1 innings, however his strikeout numbers are way down as he is currently pitching more to contact. Marcus Stroman, who was quite good for us in 2021, similarly stiff-armed the Mets for more money with the rebuilding Cubs, only he’s so far pitched to a 5.32 ERA. The ageless soft tosser Rich Hill left for the Red Sox, where he is turning in a typical 4.09 ERA. Steven Matz, born and raised a Met, nearly came back to Queens but opted for the St. Louis Cardinals, much to Steve Cohen’s chagrin. However the injury prone lefty followed up his surprisingly solid 2021 season in Toronto with a real clunker this year, pitching to a 6.03 ERA. No regrets in letting most of these guys walk away, though you can bet Syndergaard’s name will come up among Mets fans this next off-season when he hits free agency again.
On the hitting front, the Mets were said to be in on Kris Bryant, who signed with the Rockies for seven years and $182 million. The former MVP has mostly been injured. In 75 at bats, he’s hitting .267 with no home runs. Javier Baez gave us quite a show in his half season as a Met last year with dazzling plays in the field and on the bases, but his propensity for striking out and drawing attention to himself for the wrong reasons prompted the Mets front office to let him walk. This is looking like a very smart decision. Baez signed with the Tigers for six years and $140 million. Thus far, he’s repaid his new franchise by delivering a putrid slash line of .222/.261/.381 and that factors in a recent hot streak.
At one point, we reportedly offered homegrown hero Michael Conforto a long-term contract which he turned down for a chance to build his value in his walk year. Only his walk year turned out to be the worst season of his career. Despite that, power agent Scott Boras advised him to turn down the Mets one-year $19 qualifying offer in hopes of landing a contract on the open market that never materialized. Conforto since suffered a shoulder injury during workouts and is now sitting out the year. Looks like we dodged a bullet on that one. However, the hometown favorite will certainly get a shot with at least a pillow contract for next season somewhere. Maybe even Queens. Other hitters the Mets were said to be considering last winter include Jorge Soler (.724 OPS in Miami), Tommy Pham (.750 OPS in Cincinnati), and Brad Miller (.623 OPS in Texas).
Checking in on some of the bench mob players who didn’t make their way back to Flushing for 2022…Jose Peraza is stashed in the Yankees AAA affiliate, Billy McKinney is struggling in Oakland, Kevin Pillar found just a few at bats in Los Angeles, and Jonathan Villar is sporting a meager .598 OPS in Chicago. Albert Almora (.715 OPS in Chicago) is doing okay for him. One recent ex-Met who is having a good season is Brandon Drury. The versatile infielder is slashing .279/.337/.541 for the Reds. With 16 home runs and 40 RBI, Drury is on his way to a career year.
All in all, the Mets probably wish we could get a do-over with the bullpen decisions, but otherwise, our front office made a lot of the right calls to set us up for the success we’ve been enjoying this season. #LFGM