The 2014 Mets, Stuck In A Tough Place

If you squinted hard enough, you could have seen this winter being the beginning of the road back to success for the Mets. Matt Harvey was establishing himself as a superstar in his first full season, highly-touted rookies Zack Wheeler & Travis d’Arnaud were getting their feet wet, and they’d be finally free of the disastrous contracts handed to Johan Santana, Jason Bay, & Frank Francisco. With what appeared to be a talented starting rotation and more prospects on the way, if they could just add another bat or two around David Wright, well, maybe they’d have something going.

But then Harvey’s elbow blew up, and d’Arnaud looked overwhelmed in his first crack at the bigs, and Ike Davis & Ruben Tejada proved that they probably aren’t part of the future, and even the team’s COO is saying that there are only four players who they “are sold on” right now (Wright and pitchers Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, & Wheeler). Suddenly the road back appears delayed by at least a year, if not two.

Now the team finds themselves in an awkward position. After five straight years of losing baseball, the restless fans are demanding action, i.e., “spending”. Yet in a division that has two of the most talented teams in the league in Atlanta & Washington and stars Jose Fernandez, Giancarlo Stanton, Domonic Brown, Cliff Lee, & Cole Hamels in Miami & Philadelphia, it’s increasingly difficult to see the Mets breaking through in 2014 without Harvey.

So the question is: should the Mets really be spending for what already looks like a grim season? If so, how? Or is this just public posturing to try to satisfy fans, a year after very nearly going the entire winter without signing a major league free agent and then finishing 13th in the NL in attendance?

Make no mistake, every report indicates that the Mets will be players on the market, with the idea apparently being to win fan support back by making a splash, similar in some ways to how they signed Carlos Beltran after three straight losing seasons headed into 2005. Most reports indicate that they’ll “spend $30 million to $40 million,” others simply say they are “under pressure to deliver,” and so it seems that the changing circumstances haven’t changed the timeline for the Mets to make some moves.

Working in the team’s favor is that with Santana & Bay finally gone, the Mets have only $25 million on the books right now, all to Wright & Niese. Add in approximately $20 million for arbitration cases like Gee, Davis, Daniel Murphy, and others, and that’s about $45 million; include Santana’s buyout, deferred money to Bay, and your usual minimum-salary 40-man costs, and Wendy Thurm estimated $62 million as the team stands today.

That’s still absurdly low for a New York team, and by Wendy’s numbers, that’s the eighth-lowest in the bigs. Of course, despite the team’s insistence that their Madoff-fueled financial troubles are behind them, the presence of a massive debt due against the team next summer makes that picture of fiduciary health less than certain.

Still, let’s take them at their word, because even spending in the $30m-$40m range gets them only up to or slightly over the relatively paltry ~$93 million they had on each of the last two Opening Days, so it’s not an unrealistic number.

This is what they start with:

C – d’Arnaud, probably
1B – Lucas Duda, or Wilmer Flores, or Josh Satin, or Davis, or…
2B – Daniel Murphy
3B – Wright
SS – anyone but Omar Quintanilla, please
LF – Eric Young, or free agent TBD
CF – Juan Lagares
RF – ?

SP – Gee, Niese, Wheeler, Jenrry Mejia (if healthy), ?
RP – Bobby Parnell, Vic Black, Jeurys Familia? Scott Rice?

That’s an offense that had the second-worst wOBA in baseball last season, and was the worst the Mets had rolled out since 1983. That cries out for upgrades, and there’s a lot of moving pieces there — Murphy may end up at first or with another team and Young could be at second, or Duda could be at first or the outfield or traded, etc. The obvious holes are in the outfield — especially because while Lagares was phenomenally impressive with the glove in his debut, he remains something of a question mark — and at shortstop, along with adding another starter and sorting out the right side of the infield.

That’s too much to fix with only the money they have available, though with Harvey on the mend and pitching prospects Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, & Jacob Degrom on the way, there’s young depth here for a trade. Considering that Jacoby Ellsbury & Shin-Soo Choo seem unlikely to land in Queens, a trade might be the best way to go — since so many teams will want to avoid huge contracts for that pair and Robinson Cano, they’ll all be in on the same second-level free agents, which will drive the prices up and make it more difficult for the Mets.

The Mets shouldn’t be going overboard on making 2014 a winning season at the expense of their future, but unlike when we looked at Houston last week, they are at least close enough that veterans they sign to multi-year deals might conceivably be a part of the next good Mets team.

Let’s go down that list of needs.

1. Shortstop. Mets fans want Troy Tulowitzki. Mets fans will be disappointed, because even if Colorado was willing to move their superstar — which still appears unlikely — the Mets have far too many holes to spend both their budget and their farm system on him. Besides, with the Cardinals clearly in need of a shortstop, and likely to prefer trading a pitcher than dipping into the market, it will be difficult for New York to beat them out for a good option here.

That puts them into the free agent market, and Jhonny Peralta & Stephen Drew both represent solutions. The Mets have a protected first round pick, so Drew’s qualifying offer shouldn’t scare them off, and any Mets fan who shies away from Peralta’s PED suspension must not have been watching Marlon Byrd play so well for them last year. Drew is both younger and a far better fielder, which this Mets team could use.

You said 3/$33m in your crowd-sourcing; Jon Heyman and an agent said three for slightly higher. We’ll say 3/$36m, giving the team a solid left-side pair with Wright and a huge upgrade from Tejada & Quintanilla, especially since they have no shortstop prospects who are even close.

2. Left field. Duda is in theory an option here, but he’s such a terrible defensive outfielder that he really ought to keep his low-cost mix of “patience and some power” to first base, with Davis moving on. Young was a nice find, but a .290 wOBA means that he’s far more useful as a speed option off the bench rather than as a starter.

Fortunately, the market bears some choices here. Yes, a Beltran return would be fun, but he’s far more likely to land in the American League and/or with a team that has a chance to win right now, and Nelson Cruz‘ combination of poor defense and high price makes him a less than ideal fit. A return engagement with Byrd may work, but if the goal here is to make some headlines, convincing Curtis Granderson to stay in New York might be worthwhile. (This assumes he declines his qualifying offer, as is likely.)

Granderson’s defense is stretched in center at this point, but he’d make a fine corner outfielder, and questions about his health along with the qualifying offer ought to keep his salary down. While he may not have quite as many homers away from Yankee Stadium’s right field porch, his home/road splits aren’t nearly as profound as many believe. (35 of his 43 2012 homers would have been out in Citi Field.) You said 4/$56m, and that aligns with the annual average of Heyman’s trio.

3. Right field. Ignoring backloading for the moment, we’ve spent $27m already and filled two spots, so you can see how little $30m to $40m really is these days. This is where it’s time to get a bit creative, and investigate trading Davis as a buy-low appeal for someone else as well as using some of that young pitching depth.

We’ve been hearing rumors about Andre Ethier to the Mets for perhaps forever, but it’s difficult to see what the Mets could spare that the Dodgers would want. “Davis for Norichika Aoki” has been floated, and makes some amount of sense; while the Mets risk coming out on the short end should Davis blossom, especially since Aoki has only one year of control remaining, it seems clear that a change in scenery is best for both sides. Aoki is no star, but he’s a solid outfielder with speed and on-base skills, one who can lead off and is at least preferable to a year of Matt den Dekker or Kirk Nieuwenhuis — and who costs just under $2 million.

Should the Mets want to make some real noise, they could skimp elsewhere or pass on Granderson to try and wrangle Jose Bautista out of Toronto. Bautista, who was a Met for a matter of minutes on July 30, 2004, would bring them the power bat they so desperately need, but would likely cost them Wheeler or Syndergaard, plus more. Or if the Brewers decide they can’t go on with Ryan Braun… well, that’s another post entirely.

4. Starting pitcher. The Mets shouldn’t and likely won’t be in on the Ervin Santanas, Matt Garzas, and Ricky Nolascos of the world, and how much they have to spend here depends on what they do on offense, which is clearly a higher priority. Like everyone else, they’d love an ace, but since the priority here has to be offense and there’s only so much they can do in one winter, they likely need to focus on making sure they don’t need to rely on the 2014 equivalents of Aaron Laffey, Collin McHughDaisuke Matsuzaka, and Carlos Torres in the rotation.

That means the names here aren’t especially exciting, but if the emphasis is reliability and durability, they could do worse than a Bronson Arroyo, who really needs to be in a pitcher park but is good for 200 innings a year. Failing that, perhaps this is a fit for a Jason Vargas, or a Tim Hudson, or a Josh Johnson, but likely not the deep end of the pool.

The Mets would still need to find some low-cost bullpen options and ideally some kind of better d’Arnaud partner than Anthony Recker, and this is still a flawed team regardless. Still, there’s ways they can make this apparent spending spree effective, not only by helping to regain some fan trust in 2014, but by acquiring guys who should still be useful in 2015 and 2016, when the younger players have hopefully taken a step forward and Wright will still be in his prime.

It’s not perfect, but it’s the Mets; few things are.



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Mike Petriello used to write here, and now he does not. Find him at @mike_petriello or MLB.com.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Izzy Hechkoff
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Of note, the Mets have previously stated that the Santana and Bay buyouts were counted as part of the 2013 payroll.

Stringer Bell
Guest
Stringer Bell
2 years 10 months ago

Dominic Brown is a star? What world am I living in?

Jesse
Guest
Jesse
2 years 10 months ago

ditto. meanwhile. chutley, still a star.

Gabes
Guest
Gabes
2 years 10 months ago

The Brewers would demand much more than Ike Davis for a cheap Aoki, right? I understand he’d be an upgrade over the void that was 1B this year, but Aoki should fetch more.

Anon21
Member
Anon21
2 years 10 months ago

“Much more” for one year of a dude who was kinda-sorta league average in a corner outfield spot last year? I suppose they can “demand” anything they like, but Aoki doesn’t look like a hot commodity.

LaLoosh
Guest
LaLoosh
2 years 10 months ago

huh? Aoki is about 1 step above Luis Castillo. Once you put aside Aoki’s cheap contract, the redeeming qualities there are few considering that he’s a corner OFer. And there is simply no way the Mets are giving up 3 yrs of control (Ike Davis) to get a player back they’d control for only 1 yr. Sorry, that swap makes no sense.

AV
Guest
AV
2 years 10 months ago

On the surface this doesn’t make sense for either team but looking into it further, this swap actually makes sense for a couple of reasons:

1) Davis is a classic change of scenery guy. The talent is still there but playing in New York seems to have gotten in his head. Milwaukee needs a young, power-hitting lefty hitter and a 1B. Davis fits that mold.
2) Aoki is signed for only one year, which gives the Mets a season to figure out what they have in Cesar Puello. Puello was having the best season of his career in Double-A before the Biogenesys suspension. While a lot of people wonder if his season was PED-inflated, this season took place after Biogenesys was shut down and after his name was already leaked, meaning he was best tested much more aggressively since his connection was already known. This allows the Mets to put Puello in Triple-A in 2014 to see what they really have in him.

AV
Guest
AV
2 years 10 months ago

“…meaning he was tested much more aggressively…”

Not sure how the word ‘best’ got in there. :-(

LaLoosh
Guest
LaLoosh
2 years 10 months ago

Mets don’t need to give up 3 yrs of control on Davis to get 1 yr back of Aoki just to give Puello a yr in AAA.

Zen Madman
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

They might want more than Ike for Aoki, but Davis is a potential long-term piece (or total bust), while Aoki only has 1 year of control (granted, at a great price).

Zen Madman
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

By what measure is Drew a “far better fielder” than Peralta? My eyes believe you, but the numbers I’ve seen do not.

Namdam Nez
Guest
Namdam Nez
2 years 10 months ago

I was about to say the same thing.

Za
Guest
Za
2 years 10 months ago

Positioning. Peralta’s a master. He’s not super quick and his range isn’t incredible but he gets to where the ball’s going to be.

LaLoosh
Guest
LaLoosh
2 years 10 months ago

this was one of the less thoughtful Met winter projections imo. There is little chance of the Mets giving up one, much less two draft picks (Drew and Granderson). That is simply not happening. As Szym said in today’s chat, talk of the Mets connected to several “names” this winter is most likely nothing but posturing.

Biggest name the Mets probably pursue this winter is Peralta. In addition, despite what some see as the team’s depth, they should be one of the teams in on Nolasco. His signing could permit them to deal Gee, who’s value with 3 yrs till FA will never be higher. The team clearly doesn’t want to deal any of its high ceiling arm prospects and Gee may be the one most easily replaceable.

attgig
Guest
attgig
2 years 10 months ago

I’d take Peralta over Drew. Drew’s numbers were inflated to JasonBay proportions in Fenway. Look at his home/road splits. His numbers in Oakland and even hitter friendly Arizona. He puts up numbers closer to his 2011/12 than his 2013 if he’s playing half his games in Citifield.

attgig
Guest
attgig
2 years 10 months ago

how much would Jose Molina be? Sure he’s not a bat, but he’s a backup catcher, and could help mentor D’Arnaud who seems keen on becoming a better framer and overall defensive catcher. Why not have the best with him to be a mentor?

Pirates Hurdles
Guest
Pirates Hurdles
2 years 10 months ago

“Ike Davis & Ruben Tejada proved that they probably aren’t part of the future”

How exactly does one “prove” they “probably” aren’t something? Don’t you either prove it or not?

Zen Madman
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

I see this comment is getting a lot of hate, and it IS a bit nitty. But Ike’s brief stint after his Las Vegas adventure did unprove whatever he proved in the first half. He had a different approach and demonstrated that he *could* be one side of a productive platoon.

Johnny Thunder
Guest
Johnny Thunder
2 years 10 months ago

Carlos Torres had a 3.60 xFIP as a starting pitcher last year compared to a 3.59 mark for Ricky Nolasco.

LaLoosh
Guest
LaLoosh
2 years 10 months ago

meaning? so now Carlos Torres is a starter capable of logging 200 innings/yr at a mid 3 FIP? is that what you’re saying?!

Torres fan
Guest
Torres fan
2 years 10 months ago

Torres is lumped in with the dreck that needs to be replaced yet there’s a reason to think he’s much better. Perhaps not in Nolasco territory but clpser to that than McHugh.

Za
Guest
Za
2 years 10 months ago

Torres is a better long-man than Hefner and can definitely start in a pinch. Great pick up and deserves the roster spot.

Darrell
Guest
Darrell
2 years 10 months ago

If they truly want to make a positive signing , they should sign Canoe , move Murphy to First and let the kid , they brought late last season play SS.
Other wise I’s going to be another ” mellow ” winter in Queens.

Lenard
Guest
Lenard
2 years 10 months ago

If they were to sign a canoe, they should play it in right field. It would probably play better defense than Duda.

Zen Madman
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Granderson could be a decent (and realistic) acquisition, but not at the crowdsourced price. I have to agree with Cameron there: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-land-mines-of-the-2014-free-agent-class/

Mike Green
Guest
Mike Green
2 years 10 months ago

If they are going to sign Canoe, they absolutely must go hard after Kayakasaki. A keystone combination that floats over incoming baserunners is a good thing to have with the rising oceans.

Za
Guest
Za
2 years 10 months ago

Trade for Ethier and Van Slyke. Platoon Ethier and let Van Slyke turn into Jayson Werth (seriously – look at their career trajectories). Van Slyke, who was considered a rookie this year, plays respectable defense at 1st and corner OF while walking a ton and hitting for some power. Despite not having faced much Major League pitching, it’s pretty safe to say he’ll be better offensively overall than Aoki and better against lefties than even Choo. Ethier had a 140 wRC+ against righty pitching this year and that’s pretty much exactly in line with his career numbers.

Sign Peralta and Kazmir.

Now you have:

C: d’Arnaud
1B: Duda/Satin (or Davis…one’s probably getting traded)
2B: Flores or Murphy (one’s probably getting traded)
3B: Wright
SS: Peralta
LF: Ethier/Brown
CF: Lagares
RF: Van Slyke

Bench: Tejada, catcher, Murphy, EYJ, Satin

With the following starters:

1) Kazmir
2) Gee
3) Niese
4) Wheeler
5) Mejía

That’s a better team than we put out this year and the trades and signings are very doable.

LaLoosh
Guest
LaLoosh
2 years 10 months ago

it’s a matter of how much the Dodgers are willing to eat to move Ethier.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

Another thing to think about, likely not contending this year, why not target short term guys to trade mid season? Pick 2-3 guys you think other teams will pass on due to age but will still be good. Then trade them mid season to, say the Orioles for a prospect package when they need to patch up their rotation for a post season run. It could be a way to add even more prospects without looking like it.

Zen Madman
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

I think that’s a reasonable and creative approach (which I thought of too, darn it!). Sign guys like Byrd, Hart, Josh Johnson, Colon, Hawkins. It gives the team a chance to win now, but assuming they don’t, there’s long-term upside in mid-season trades.

LaLoosh
Guest
LaLoosh
2 years 10 months ago

the Mets have been planning not to contend for more than 4 yrs already. The time has come to begin to move the needle forward. The winter is just beginning and some are already suggesting to punt the season?? Oy!

Zen Madman
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

I don’t see it as punting, which is why I said: “It gives the team a chance to win now.” The best you’re going to get in 2014 is a chance. The young players will have to develop, the team will need to be lucky with injuries, and whatever players are acquired will have to perform. 5 or 6 pretty good players might add as much value as 2 really good ones. The upside is a better fallback position. I’m not saying this is definitely the best option, but I recognize that it’s a potentially reasonable option, depending on how much you must pay for which players.

wobatus
Guest
wobatus
2 years 10 months ago

Montero has already thrown about as many AAA innings as Wheeler had when he got called up. Degrom is close behind and Syndergaard probably only needs a half season or so in Hell, er, Vegas. Maybe it would be rushing things, but I’d go

Wheeler
Niese
Gee
Mejia
Montero

Degrom could start in Vegas or be a swing man. Mejia only had a minor elbow procedure, but given the injury history, Degrom could fill in if need be, or Torres.

Then you have Syndergaard waiting in the wings. Harvey and Hefner could be back in 2015. plus there are a ton of live arm wild cards moving up the ladder.

An Arroyo type innings eater would be nice but I think they could sign a cheaper option if need be, a stop gap who could be tossed aside, because I think the in house options are fine. They have greater needs elsewhere.

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