A Plan for the 2014 Mets
Success in the 2014 off-season is essential to the Mets’ progress. With a barren free agent class the following year and their books shedding roughly $60 million, the Mets must use their new financial flexibility to overhaul their 25-man roster. Luckily for General Manager Sandy Alderson, there should be ample improvement opportunities.
- Corner Outfielder
- Corner Outfielder
Sandy Alderson has made four historic decisions. First, the good. Alderson traded Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler. Wheeler, a raw right-handed starter, will be under the Mets’ control for the next six years and will break camp as the Mets’ third starter. Obtaining one of baseball’s brightest prospects for a rental is an absolute steal.
Later, he traded one year of former Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey for Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. Both highly touted, d’Arnaud should start 2014 as the Mets’ catcher, while Syndergaard could be a late season call up. Expect to see him out of the pen initially. In 2014, the Mets will have 12 years of control over their starting catcher and their third starter, which will allow them to invest elsewhere.
As good as these two trades were, and again they were historic franchise altering trades, Alderson’s decisions regarding Angel Pagan and Jose Reyes were two of the worst.
Pagan was shipped to San Francisco for Andres Torres and fungible reliever Ramon Ramirez following a dismal 2011 season. Unsurprisingly, the 34-year-old Torres flopped and the volatile reliever pitched like a volatile reliever. Now, that isn’t to say Pagan was a superstar or that one should have predicted a 4.6 fWAR campaign in his first season by the bay, but simple regression suggested Pagan projected to be at least a league average player who was three and a half years Torres’ junior.
It’s unfair to lay full blame at Alderson’s feet for the Mets’ treatment of their homegrown superstar, Jose Reyes. It’s difficult to trade an injured injury-prone player, even a superstar and eventual batting champion. Further, the Wilpons deserve the majority of the culpability for implying they would attempt to sign the Mets’ shortstop. That never appeared to be the case.
This is all a long-winded way of saying the Front Office has created two of the Mets’ most glaring holes.
The most obvious choice to replace the Mets’ awful cadre of shortstops is Stephen Drew. Drew, 31, is without a home in Boston due to the Sox’s tandem of Bogaerts(SS) and Middlebrooks(3B). Boston is certain to allow Drew to leave without a $14 million qualifying offer. There isn’t another upgrade available in free agency, but one has to wonder whether a stopgap like Cliff Pennington would be a significant upgrade over the in-house options. Pennington is a competent defender and a better hitter than he showed this season.
An array of options leaves The Mets’ outfield situation far more compelling. Should Marlon Byrd express interest in returning, the Mets will likely bring him back. But at 36 years old, one should not expect the right fielder to repeat his career year.
There are two worthwhile corner outfielders on the free agent market with Shin-Soo Choo and Hunter Pence receiving the most fanfare. Both should receive qualifying offers which would cost the Mets a first round pick and the related signing bonus money, roughly $2 million, in addition to the contract price. Signing one of these two and pairing them with Byrd would be ideal.
Alternatively, the Mets could explore Corey Hart. Hart missed this season with a knee injury, so a return to the outfield is questionable. However, his will not cost the Mets a pick and could play first base if Ike Davis continues to do Ike Davis things. A one year deal with guaranteed playing time should be enough to lure Hart to Queens, should other options prove too costly.
- First Base
- Second base
It’s hardly worth my time to discuss the inexplicable roller-coaster that is Ike Davis. His rookie year exceeded expectations and his sophomore campaign did nothing to quell the hype. Then 2012 and 2013 happened. Over the past two seasons Davis has been brutal, most of the time. Yet, his occasional brilliance has provided enough hope to save his job. For that reason it would be difficult to fault Mets’ brass for giving him a final shot, unless they can sign Cuba’s Jose Dariel Abreu. Abreu is a legendary Cuban first baseman, but the competition for his services could be steep with the Red Sox, Rangers and maybe even the Marlins vying for him.
If the Wilpons want to prove to their franchise’s fan base that their wallet plays in New York, signing Abreu – who will not cost a first round pick – would be the best move.
At second, Daniel Murphy is merely average. Murphy is set to make between $4 million and $5 million dollars next season, so he isn’t valueless. But, if the Mets could move him for a relief pitcher or two, they should. Ultimately, Wilmer Flores needs to play everyday. He will not become an average fielder, but neither is Murphy. Deploying another starter who makes the league minimum will allow the team to aggressively invest elsewhere. It’s possible, even likely Flores is worse than Murphy in 2014, but his upside is greater and he is far cheaper.
- Center Field
- Relief Pitchers
Juan Lagares has been a superb defender in his brief half-season stint with the club. It’s unwise to project him to save 30 runs in the outfield, but 10 would be fair. Allowing Lagares to develop in the majors, while he too earns the league minimum, could prove fruitful. If he winds up a league average hitter, a reasonable expectation as he matures, he will be a well above average major league center fielder.
Citi Field is an expansive park. While unneutered defensive statistics are difficult to find, I assume both left and right field see ample opportunities compared to other stadiums and I wouldn’t be opposed to signing Jacoby Ellsbury to man center and placing Lagares on either flank. The shift would cost Lagares some batted balls to chase, but he would be far better than the average corner outfielder. However, signing Ellsbury will of course depend on his demands. With other alternatives available, the Mets should not give a 30-year-old Ellsbury more than 5 years.
- Third Base
- The Rotation
Obviously the 2014 Mets will be shaped in large part by the market, but here is my projection…
Catcher – Travis d’Arnaud (2 WAR)
First Base – Ike Davis (2 WAR)
Second Base – Wilmer Flores (2 WAR)
Third Base – David Wright (5 WAR)
Shortstop – Stephen Drew (2.5 WAR) – 2 years, $18M with a third year team option.
Left Field – Shin-Soo Choo (3.5 WAR) – 5 years, $70M
Center Field – Juan Lagares (2 WAR)
Right Field – Marlon Byrd (1.5 WAR) – 1 year, $4M with a second year team option. (Or, flip Montero for Joc Pederson)
Ace – Matt Harvey (4 WAR)
#2 – Jon Niese (2.5 WAR)
#3 – Zack Wheeler (2.5 WAR)
#4 – Dillon Gee (1.5 WAR)
#5 – Jenry Mejia (1.5 WAR)
Spot Starter – Jeremy Hefner (.5 WAR)
Spot Starter – Rafael Montero (.5 WAR)
It’s a simplistic plan, really. Despite all the options, the Mets have rarely made a splash of late. Here, the Mets add three starters for $27 million, bringing their payroll to roughly $70 million. Expect another $5 million to $10 million spent on the bullpen. The projections are totally off the cuff, but this looks like a team that can compete. Should they replace Davis with Abreu and some of the prospects break out, it’s possible they challenge for the division title.