Offseason Outlook: New York Mets

The Mets had hoped to build off of a strong finish to become a sleeper contender in 2014, but an injury to young ace Matt Harvey could change the team’s outlook.

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With high-caliber young pitching, a franchise cornerstone in Wright, and several turnaround candidates, the Mets had reason to believe that 2014 would be the year in which the organization began to emerge from a five-year downturn. While the team’s financial doldrums appear to be clearing, Harvey’s arm injury has thrown a major wrench into the club’s offseason plans. Manager Terry Collins will reprise his role after agreeing to a two-year extension.

The Mets opened 2011 with a $142.8MM payroll, only to drop into the low-$90MM level over the last two years. The team has the capacity for a big budget (at least in the long run), particularly now that it can finally pay Santana and Bay the last money owed on their ill-fated deals. And with the fallout from owner Fred Wilpon’s involvement in the Bernie Madoff scandal apparently easing — Wilpon said earlier this year that his family’s financial distress was “all in the rearview mirror” – it could be time to rev up the spending. On the other hand, the team’s poor performance of late has driven down revenues, and things could be less rosy than Wilpon has suggested. A recent look by Howard Megdal suggests that the long-promised wallet opening may still be restrained.

All eyes will be on GM Sandy Alderson, who is entering the last year of his contract, to see how aggressively he pursues impact free agents. Alderson has estimated that the club has around $55MM committed next year (including arbitration-eligible and pre-arb players), and says it could add something in the realm of $40MM more, though Megdal has questioned those estimates and the potential impact that much room could have. The Harvey injury — which will have an impact on the team’s shopping list – could either provide reason for a conservative approach or a ready excuse for the same. Either way, Alderson has indicated that the Mets will be even more disinclined to deal from their young pitching and will likely be forced to open the wallet for a free agent starter.


Niese, Gee, and Zack Wheeler are safe bets for the 2014 rotation, but the club’s other options all come with question marks. Internal possibilities range from Jenrry Mejia, who is coming off bone spur surgery, to spot starter Carlos Torres, to minor leaguers Rafael Montero, Jacob deGrom, and (perhaps less likely) Noah Syndergaard. There is enough youth and uncertainty in that group to make a veteran acquisition a likelihood.

The club could look at another incentive-laden, one-year deal for a veteran hoping to re-establish value, as the club did last time around with Shaun Marcum, and hope for better results. (Roberto Hernandez, recently profiled by MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes, could fit that description.) Or the Mets could look for more of a sure thing at a higher cost; for instance, rumor has it that a Bronson Arroyo signing could make sense for both club and player. Of course, even a limited-upside pitcher like Arroyo will command a substantial commitment; Dierkes recently pegged his market value at two years and $24MM. In addition to Arroyo, MLBTR has recently profiled several other starters — Scott Feldman (link), Scott Kazmir (link), and Paul Maholm (link) — who could make sense for the Mets.

Any dollars spent on starting pitching will eat into the payroll space that the Mets hoped to utilize on an impact bat. After reportedly trying and failing to land Wil Myers and Justin Upton last year, the club is said to covet Shin-Soo Choo. Though Alderson managed to cobble together a surprisingly effective outfield unit this year, the club already traded its best performer, Marlon Byrd, who was set to hit the open market at age 36. The fielding exploits of 24-year-old Juan Lagares made the Mets especially happy to have missed on Michael Bourn, suggesting that Lagares a solid bet to man center. New York seems to like the midseason pickup of Young, but hopes to use him in a reserve role. They could also move him to second base in the event of a Murphy trade. Duda has had success at times at the plate but is a defensive liability in the outfield. Other options, too, lack appeal: Kirk Nieuwenhuis has hit in the minors but not the bigs; Mike Baxter has always been viewed as a reserve; the tumultuous Jordany Valdespin may not even see Spring Training after his PED suspension; and Cesar Puello seemed to be applying his tools in Double-A until he, too, sat out 50 games after the Biogenesis scandal.

A deal for an on-base machine like Choo makes sense, but the Mets don’t wish to exceed four years, which will likely make Choo too pricey. There are other established slugging corner outfielders on the market, of course, including Curtis Granderson and former Met Carlos Beltran. Then, there is the PED-tainted Nelson Cruz, who could be a budget target of multiple teams hunting for pop. But each of these players is 33 or older, has defense or injury concerns, and will benefit to some degree by the market-setting $90MM extension just inked by Hunter Pence. If the Mets do decide to chase after top talent, the team will not have to sacrifice its first-round pick to sign free agents who declined qualifying offers.

At catcher, the Amazin’s figure to give high-end prospect Travis d’Arnaud every chance to earn the regular job in 2014. Though he struggled in his first go at the majors, d’Arnaud is healthy and has nothing left to prove in the minors. A recent report suggests that the club will pursue a free agent alternative to Anthony Recker for the backup role. 

In the infield, Wright is a certainty at third base. Murphy is likely to man second base again, though the team will reportedly listen to trade offers for him. Despite shaky defense, Murphy doubled his 2012 home run and stolen base output this year. With two years of control remaining, he could be an extension candidate, though his net production has been marginal enough that he probably does not profile as a sure thing beyond 2015. The most interesting potential replacement at the keystone – Wilmer Flores, who only recently turned 22 — may not be suited for the position. And despite mashing in his first go at Triple-A, Flores has struggled mightily in his first taste of big league action.

That leaves shortstop and first base, both of which pose interesting dilemmas. The aforementioned Duda received a late-season chance to stake a claim on first base duties, but early promise gave way to a late-season swoon. If Duda cannot earn a starting gig, his remaining option does leave the team with some space to develop him further before making an all-or-nothing call. Davis’ huge promise faded this year with performance and injury issues. Entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, the 26-year-old isn’t likely to be non-tendered, but he or Duda could be traded this winter.
 
Josh Satin hit lefties well enough to make him a platoon option for whichever lefty swinger earns the bulk of the playing time at first. It would be somewhat surprising to see the Mets play in the free agent market at first, but the club could always elect to change course if it fell in love with a player like Cuban first bagger Jose Dariel Abreu.

At short, the Mets have two highly questionable in-house options coming off of sub-.600 OPS years. Quintanilla is a non-tender candidate after failing to grasp his chance at a starting role this year. And Tejada will now work back from a broken fibula after an already-poor campaign. Collins says that the job is Tejada’s to lose going into the spring, but Alderson has cast doubt publicly on Tejada’s work ethic, saying that the team “need[s] to see a commitment to improvement.” Turner has provided consistently average offensive production and defensive flexibility at a low cost, but is not an everyday option at short. 

This presents a serious void that could be fixed via free agency or trade. Jhonny Peralta and Stephen Drew are probably the most promising options; of course, the former carries the scarlet letter of Biogenesis while the latter should be in a position to get multiple years after a roughly 3-win season at age 30. Alexei Ramirez is an obvious trade candidate, but his bat is declining at age 32, making the $20.5MM left on his deal look risky. Another possibility, Asdrubal Cabrera, has youth on his side and finished strong in 2013, but he has just one year of team control remaining at $10MM. And though it is popular to speculate on the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, there is no indication that either could be had for less than a major haul, and Andrus is guaranteed $15MM annually for the foreseeable future.
  
The bullpen seems to have most of its pieces already under contract. Led by Parnell, who the club hopes to have ready for 2014 after neck surgery, there are several youthful options to be called upon. Recent trade acquisition Vic Black has pitched well, while fellow live-armed youngster Jeurys Familia also has closer upside. Torres, Josh Edgin, Atchison, Gonzalez Germen, lefty Scott Rice, and several others should also be in the mix, and the team could look to bring back Hawkins or Feliciano for a final go-round. 

If, as Alderson maintains, the Metropolitans have $40MM to play with, they can make some impactful additions. But allocating that full amount to new acquisitions would have its limits, even if the team took the risk of back-loading some deals. A legitimate outfield power bat, solid starter, and reliable shortstop would likely exhaust all of those funds and still leave some areas of concern. And achieving that haul without drastically overpaying (in dollars, years, and/or prospects) will be a challenge with a thin free agent crop. Without Harvey leading the way, it is an open question whether even that magnitude of improvement would be enough to give the Mets a realistic chance to compete in 2014.


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