It’s that time of year again. The World Series is complete (sorry), and the hot stove is already heating up. With the open market beginning Sunday (when teams are allowed to negotiate with players outside their organization), here is what should be on the Mets’ agenda to get back in the World Series next year.
The rotation is obviously set. In some order, next year’s rotation will be Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz, with Jonathan Niese likely rounding out the rotation until Zack Wheeler has fully rebounded from Tommy John Surgery. With the loss of Dillon Gee and Bartolo Colon to free agency, the rotation is still overcrowded, as Rafael Montero should be back after recovering from an unknown right shoulder injury at some point along with Wheeler. That makes seven starting pitchers, which is clearly way too much, which is why we may see a starter (Niese, most likely) being dealt to better organize other facets on the team. Sandy Alderson has expressed interest in bringing back Colon for ’16, although it would assumably be for a role in the bullpen, which I can’t imagine Bart is too keen on.
With the loss of Tyler Clippard, Jerry Blevins, Bobby Parnell, and Eric O’Flaherty, there are some definite questions in the bullpen. Last year, big things were being expected from the likes of Vic Black, Parnell, and Jenry Mejia—none of which worked out as planned for various reasons. You can expect Mejia to be released at some point in the offseason, as I don’t think anyone affiliated with the Mets organization has the slightest intention to bring him back. Either way, there are some definite questions. The bullpen as it stands now would most likely consist of Sean Gilmartin, Erik Goeddel, Hansel Robles, and Jeurys Familia at the back end. A typical team will carry seven relievers, which makes spots for three more. Internal options are aplenty, with Josh Edgin, Jack Leathersich, and Buddy Carlyle all attempting to rebound from injuries, plus others such as Carlos Torres, Logan Verrett, Josh Smoker, and Dario Alvarez. Addison Reed is expected to be tendered a contract over $5 million in order to avoid his departure, too. These are all some viable options, but by no means will this team have a 8th and 9th inning punch that many playoff teams do.
Goal #1- find a solid eighth inning reliever and lefty specialist.
Whether that means re-signing Clippard or the free agent market, something must be done to put a guy in this bullpen who isn’t a complete question mark. Attractive names to me on the market include Darren O’Day, Jason Motte, Mark Lowe, Ryan Madson, and Carlos Villanueva. Josh Edgin and Jack Leathersich most likely won’t be ready for April baseball, so it would behoove the Mets to go out grab another lefty specialist—whether it be Jerry Blevins or looking elsewhere such as Antonio Bastardo, Craig Breslow, Tony Sipp, Matt Thonton, or Oliver Perez.
Ha. Just kidding about that last one..
The Mets are in an awkward position with their current catching setup, as Travis d’Arnaud seems all set to be the catcher of the future, but prospect Kevin Plawecki is hot on his heels. There has been talk of moving one of them to first base or a corner outfield position—Plawecki actually got some reps at first in Triple-A Las Vegas this year-but nothing seems to be too definite with Conforto and Duda looking like mainstays. The Mets lost Anthony Recker to free agency, who I wouldn’t expect back, but still have Johnny Monnell as a third catcher if they need him. In fact, Monnell may be on the opening day roster if the club decides to use Plawecki as trade bait or keep him in Triple-A for some more seasoning.
Lucas Duda and David Wright are locked in at the corners, there is no doubt about that. The Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada platoon seemed to work quite well at shortstop this past year, so I expect there to be more of that as well, but there is a gaping hole at second base with Daniel Murphy gone to free agency, which brings us to Goal #2.
Goal #2-Solve Second Base, Backup Infielder
There is never really a good indication of how much money the Mets have and are willing to spend. The Bernie Madoff scheme is really paying its dividends of late, and I doubt the Mets come up with the long-term money that Murphy desires to keep him around. Don’t get me wrong, I love Murph—he’s a heads up player and carried the club through the playoffs. He’s adding a power swing to what used to be a doubles-type hitter, which is extremely dangerous. I would absolutely vouch to bring him back for a few more years, but I just don’t think the Mets can afford to. Given that, the idea of prospect Dilson Herrera being the 2016 Opening Day starter is growing more and more likely. The only legitimate options to sign on the Free Agent market are Howie Kendrick and Ben Zobrist; both established veterans, but if it came down to me, I would choose the young talent over two proven vets that could fade fast given a two or three year deal. Herrera looks like an exciting young ballplayer, but hasn’t quite equated his Minor League success to that of the Show. Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson have both departed via free agency, leaving little options for backup in the infield. Internally, Danny Muno could do the job, with Matt Reynolds probably a more attractive option but more fitted for an everyday role. I think we can expect the Mets to re-sign either Uribe or Johnson, both who are experienced, clutch vets. Johnson, in hindsight, could be an effective starter at second base if Herrera doesn’t work out and Murph can’t be afforded.
Yoenis Cespedes has departed via free agency, leaving the biggest question of the offseason in the outfield.
Goal #3-Solve the Center Field Situation
Michael Conforto is in left field for good, and Granderson is a main-stay in right. To be honest, I’m fine with Juan Lagares being the Opening Day center fielder. He proved he can hit after being led to believe he would be the leadoff hitter in Spring Training, ultimately finding himself excelling in a platoon role with limited at-bats in 2015. Lagares has the potential to be something special if theres not another body put in his way, as does Kirk Nieuwenhuis. The organization touted these guys to be something special, then drops Jason Bay, Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, and Michael Cuddyer in their way to give them virtually no chance of contributing at the Major League level. When they don’t contribute in little opportunities, the organization just drops more bodies in front of them for lack of confidence. So I would leave well enough alone, platoon Lagares and Kirk. If it doesn’t work out, use Plawecki, Niese, Montero, or Reynolds at the deadline to pick up someone who can do the job full-time if prospect Brandon Nimmo isn’t ready.
But I know the front office won’t accept this.
As of now, with Cespedes’ injuries, lack of performance late in the season, and a poor outfield market, I can’t predict he’s going to get any outstanding offers. I can definitely picture him being in a New York uniform next season. Granderson is half way through his contract, and Cuddyer is entering his last year, so the Mets will need an outfielder to go along with Conforto and Nimmo in the future. For a short term fix, there are a lot of options to platoon with Lagares elsewhere via free agency, such as Alejandro de Aza, Denard Span, and Colby Rasmus—all lefties that would probably render Nieuwenhuis useless, although the ladder two would constitute a more full-time role. The Mets have been linked to other names by enthusiastic fans such as Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler, but I can’t see any of those happening. Right now, I’m predicting Cespedes ends up with New York on a long term deal. If not, it will be because the Mets wowed Daniel Murphy with a long term offer at second.
Jordany Valdespin is also a free agent, if anyone was wondering….