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The Rays have inked right-hander Michael Kohn to a one-year, major league contract, the club announced today. With the move, Tampa’s 40-man roster is now full for the time being.
Kohn, 28, elected free agency after being designated for assignment and outrighted in early September by the Angels. That move was confusing on the surface, as Kohn owns a 3.52 ERA across 76 2/3 frames since the start of 2013 and strikes out batters at a handy 9.2 per-nine clip.
But those numbers are not quite supported by Kohn’s peripherals; ERA estimators suggest that he may have benefited from a low home run-to-flyball rate and a .192 BABIP-against. At root, the concern with Kohn was his badly-slipping control. He ended up issuing 7.6 free passes per nine last year, including a troubling ten over his last 5 1/3 frames. Neither was the problem contained to his MLB time: Kohn walked 27 in his 34 Triple-A innings.
Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis entered the 2014 season with a lot to prove coming off the worst season of his pro career in 2013, and he was able to reestablish a significant amount of value heading into what will likely be his first venture into the free agent market. While he does have a mutual option ($17.5MM with a $2MM buyout) — such options are rarely, if ever exercised by both sides — especially when they’re for such a lofty amount.
Throughout his career, Markakis has consistently gotten on base at a strong clip. A lifetime .290/.358/.435 hitter, Markakis has never posted a single-season OBP lower than .329, and he’s never batted below .271, either. His lowest OBP and batting average both came last season on the heels of three 2012 surgeries — one to repair a sports hernia, one to repair a broken hamate bone in his right wrist and the other to repair a broken thumb in his left hand. Markakis performed well after the first two operations — the hernia and the hamate procedures — but the thumb injury ended his season. It’s possible that an injury to his dominant hand, coupled with the effects of the surgery on his right hand left him a bit sapped in that poor 2013 campaign.
Though he does have those three fairly recent surgeries in his history, Markakis has otherwise been one of baseball’s most durable players over the life of his nine-year career. The former first-round pick (seventh overall) has averaged 152 games per season since debuting as a 22-year-old in 2006, topping 160 games five times and 155 or more on seven occasions. Aside from 2012, he’s never been on the disabled list.
As his OBP marks indicate, Markakis walks at a fairly strong clip. He’s never posted a walk rate lower than 7.9 percent in a season and is at 9.3 percent for his career (8.7 percent in 2014). He’s one of the toughest batters in baseball to strike out, as evidenced by a lifetime strikeout rate of 13 percent (11.8 percent in 2014). And, while he doesn’t have the plus power he showed earlier in his career, Markakis has hit 10 or more homers in each season of his career, including 14 this year.
Defensive metrics go back and forth on Markakis’ value in right field, but Ultimate Zone Rating has long been a fan of his strong, accurate arm, and he posted positive marks in both UZR/150 (+5.8) and Defensive Runs Saved (+1) in 2014.
As noted, defensive metrics offer a wide range of potential outcomes on Markakis. While he was a plus defender in right field this season and graded as perhaps baseball’s best right fielder back in 2008 (+11 UZR/150, +22 DRS), he’s posted negative marks more often than not in recent years. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the heavy workload he takes on each season, and perhaps the hernia surgery in 2012 impacted some of his glovework, but agent Jamie Murphy of TWC Sports will likely have to deal with some teams that are skeptical of Markakis’ defensive outlook in the tail end of his prime years.
Though he’s a steady contributor in terms of batting average and OBP, Markakis hasn’t hit for power in recent seasons. He was on his way to a solid .174 ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) in his injury-shortened 2012, but that mark has been nearly cut in half over the previous two campaigns (.097). He’s still a double-digit homer threat, but after routinely hitting about 45 doubles per season earlier in his career, he hit just 51 between 2013 and 2014 combined.
Also clouding the picture is a late-season swoon for Markakis, who struggled mightily for 45-50 games from late July to mid-September. He did recover with a strong 10-game showing to close out the season, but his second half was notably weaker than his first: .288/.351/.395 before the break and .256/.329/.372 following.
Markakis and his wife, Christina, have three children. Together, the couple launched the Right Side Foundation in 2009 — a nonprofit organization that seeks to better the lives of distressed children in the state of Maryland. Nick and Christina were honored by the Balitmore Sun when they received the Tim Wheatley Award for off-the-field contributions to the community.
Markakis is known as a driven player who will take the field even when he’s not at 100 percent — a fact that is reflected in the number of games he’s played throughout his career.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported yesterday that the Orioles are expected to decline Markakis’ option. I found this to be a moderate surprise, as the team could have picked up its half of the option and assumed that Markakis would decline; players with his track record at his age almost never want to play on a one-year deal, instead preferring a longer commitment even at a lower annual rate. That move would spare the O’s his $2MM buyout and allow them to make a $15.3MM qualifying offer. It’s possible they could still make the QO — the combined total of the QO and the buyout ($17.3MM) would still be less than that of his option — but this seems to suggest that the team isn’t comfortable risking a $17MM+ commitment to Markakis in order to secure a draft pick. If that’s the case, he seems likely to hit the market without draft pick compensation, which is great news for Markakis and his agent.
From a competition standpoint, Markakis is positioned well. Yasmany Tomas is the name generating the most buzz in terms of corner outfield options, but he’s yet to play a game in the Majors. Melky Cabrera is coming off a fine season and is perhaps the most direct competitor. Nelson Cruz has a bigger bat but is more than three years older with more pronounced defensive issues. Some teams will undoubtedly have more interest in making an upside play on someone like Colby Rasmus over a shorter term, but Markakis can rightfully claim that he’s a more consistent contributor. Nori Aoki brings a lighter bat at an older age. Beyond that grouping, Markakis will be competing with aging veterans, many of whom are coming off poor and/or injury-plagued seasons; Alex Rios, Michael Cuddyer, Corey Hart, Mike Morse, Josh Willingham and Torii Hunter are among the alternatives.
Markakis isn’t going to make a cellar-dwelling team into a contender, but he’s the type of bat that an above-average club can look at as one of the final pieces to rounding out a contending roster. His steady batting average and OBP numbers slot are a good fit at the top of a batting order.
If the Yankees are convinced that Alex Rodriguez can play in the field enough to make Carlos Beltran a primary DH, then Markakis could be a right field option there. He’d make a nice replacement option for the Blue Jays in the event that Cabrera signs elsewhere, and the Tigers have some uncertainty in the outfield after Andy Dirks missed the 2014 season and given Hunter’s uncertain status. The Royals will need to replace Aoki if he does not re-sign, and the Mets have a well-documented corner outfield need. Seattle, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are all in need of corner outfield help as well, and the White Sox would make sense if they want to move on from Dayan Viciedo.
Markakis has three primary competitors in my opinion: Tomas, Cruz and Cabrera. Beyond that grouping, he can make the case that he’s the next-best bat and a more certain commodity than others on what is unquestionably a thin market for bats. Players in this age bracket have been targeting at least four-year commitments, and I would expect Markakis to do the same.
The late-season swoon is a strike against Markakis, but the fact that he can likely come without a draft pick attached makes him an appealing alternative to Cruz and Cabrera, and he will of course be significantly less expensive than Tomas.
I still think there’s at least a chance that Markakis ends up with a QO, and if that’s the case, I’d peg him for a three-year, $39MM contract.
However, if he’s hitting the open market without draft pick compensation attached, I do think that’s enough to get him to four years, albeit at a slightly lesser AAV. Assuming there’s no QO in play, I’m projecting a four-year, $48MM contract in a weak market for hitters.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Cruz decision has been evident for quite some time, given the slugger’s MLB-leading 40 homers and strong .271/.333/.525 batting line. Cruz struggled in the wake of a qualifying offer from the Rangers last offseason, ultimately settling for a one-year, $8MM contract with Baltimore. While many contend that the qualifying offer crushed his market — and that’s certainly part of the reason for his struggles — Cruz also hit the open market with sky-high expectations in 2013, reportedly seeking as much as $75MM in the early-going. Had he been open to signing for less, a strong multi-year offer may have been on the table. However, now that he’s coming off such a strong season that put more separation between him and a suspension for performance enhancing drugs, he’s a lock to turn down that QO and in a much better position to land a strong multi-year deal.
The Markakis decision could have gone either way, in my mind, but the decision to decline his option seems to indicate that he won’t be on the receiving end of a QO of his own. The Orioles, in theory, could have exercised their half of the option in hopes of Markakis declining his, then made a qualifying offer, assuming that a player at his age and with his track record wouldn’t want to play on a one-year deal. I thought that to be the likely outcome prior to Heyman’s report.
However, declining the option suggests that they’re not interested in paying him $17.5MM, which is nearly the exact amount that the buyout plus a qualifying offer of $15.3MM would total. It’s possible that Baltimore will still extend the QO in order to have saved roughly $200K in the event that Markakis accepts, but that would be a very peculiar route to take with someone who is so respected within the organization. The likely outcome now seems to be that he won’t cost a draft pick this offseason, which should dramatically improve his free agent stock.
The O’s have a large number of arbitration eligible players, including Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and Bud Norris, so their arb-eligibles will inflate their payroll substantially. Because of that, it’s possible that the Orioles simply felt that they couldn’t fit both Markakis and Cruz into their 2015 budget, and their preference is to position themselves more strongly to retain Cruz’s power. The 30-year-old Markakis certainly didn’t have a poor season himself, however, as he hit .276/.342/.386 with 14 homers and right-field defense that graded out favorably from a metrics standpoint.
Cuban second baseman Jose Fernandez has defected, Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports on Twitter. He will seek a big league contract, says Morosi, though of course he must first qualify for free agency. Ben Badler of Baseball America reported yesterday that Fernandez had not appeared with his club and was potentially attempting to leave Cuba.
Not to be confused with the young Marlins pitcher of the same name and Cuban heritage, the 26-year-old Fernandez is considered a legitimate big league prospect who could potentially be signed as an immediate everyday option. He will not be subject to international spending limits given his age and length of service in Cuba’s Serie Nacional.
As Badler wrote back in August, Fernandez is among the three best Cuban ballplayers who are currently unavailable to MLB teams. According to Badler, Fernandez is an on-base machine who hits from the left side with an advanced approach and contact skills. (Remarkably, he struck out only ten times in 314 trips to the plate last year.) You’ll want to read Badler’s full report, of course, for a detailed account. Though a highly developed player, Fernandez does come with some warts, including an unconventional swing, tendency to hit grounders, and below-average speed and power tools. And his defense is described as merely adequate.
In sum, it seems fair to say that Fernandez is less a flashy, toolsy prospect with a wide expected performance bracket than he is a reliable, high-floor target. By way of comparison, fellow recent defector Hector Olivera — also a second baseman — rated sixth on Badler’s list. Though he seems to offer more a somewhat more explosive offensive repertoire, he is also older and comes with an injury history.
As I explained recently with regard to Olivera, Fernandez will not be available to sign immediately. First, he will have to establish residency in another country, be cleared by the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control, and be declared a free agent by Major League Baseball. For countryman Yasmany Tomas, that process took approximately three and a half months.
Photo by Alyson Boyer Rode.
Padres starter Josh Johnson finally began playing catch for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery in April, MLB.com’s Corey Brock reports. The veteran righty is expected to begin a throwing program over the coming months.
The Padres hold a $4MM option over Johnson by virtue of his injury-shortened 2014 season. That could still be a steep price to pay given the uncertainty, though last year’s Gavin Floyd contract comes to mind as an equivalently-valued payout for a recovering pitching arm.
San Diego’s decision must be made within three days of the conclusion of the World Series, says Brock, meaning the club will have little time to gauge his progress before acting. As Brock notes, the Padres have a solid cast of rotation options already, though Johnson could make particular sense if the team is inclined to deal away one of its better pitching assets for help elsewhere.
As Brock previously reported, new GM A.J. Preller has said that the team has a “positive feel” for Johnson, though he implied that a straightforward exercise of the option may not be the likeliest scenario. “We’ll try to go down the road with him and try to present something to him that makes sense to him,” said Preller.
The team was clearly impressed by Johnson despite his inability to contribute on the field, as he was an active part of the organization during his rehab. For his part, Johnson expressed admiration for the way he was treated. “I look at it [his time in San Diego] as unfinished business,” said Johnson. “… I’ve actually learned more this year than any other year in the past put together. And as far as the organization goes, I couldn’t have hoped for anything better.”
TODAY: The report is not accurate, Schuerholz tells David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Though he did not provide details as to where things stand, the club president said: “at best the article was not accurate with either the facts or the assumptions.”
YESTERDAY: John Hart has declined the chance to take over full-time as the Braves GM, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports. For the time being, he will stay in the temporary GM seat before shifting to an advisory role with the organization when a permanent solution is arrived upon.
The club is “focused” on assistant GM John Coppolella and Royals GM Dayton Moore, says Passan, though at this point there has been no correspondence with Moore. Atlanta is unsure whether he would be interested in leaving Kansas City, for obvious reasons. One other name that has been discussed internally, per Passan, is recently-resigned Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd.
The team will wait to take action until after the Royals’ postseason run is over, according to Passan, which would appear to indicate very strong interest in Moore. At this point, it would appear that whoever takes over may not have the chance to make several key decisions (e.g., whether to issue Ervin Santana a qualifying offer), or may need to make them on a fairly short timeline.
Hart, a veteran executive who first joined Atlanta as a senior adviser, was said to be mulling the offer but leaning towards declining the full-time gig and its many responsibilities. He figures to remain an important figure in the organization, along with president John Schuerholz and former GM and manager Bobby Cox.
It remains unclear whether the Braves will ultimately open a full-blown hiring process, as did the Padres and Diamondbacks, for example. They could instead follow one of the paths taken recently by the Dodgers (making a targeted external hire) and Rockies (promoting from within).
Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski addressed a number of points with the media yesterday, and Jason Beck of MLB.com provides a transcript of his comments. Here are the key takeaways:
- Dombrowski listed the team’s top three priorities. First among them is deciding on an approach in center, which he said could either mean finding a platoon partner for the right-handed hitting Rajai Davis or going with a new, full-time option. Second: improving the bullpen, with some new arms potentially coming from within. And finally, the team wants to add another left-handed bat in some capacity. The GM rejected the notion that the club’s contention window is closing, saying he has confidence in its veteran core.
- Explaining that he is more concerned about Alex Avila‘s concussion issues on a human level than in terms of planning, Dombrowski said that he is confident in the team’s situation behind the plate. He expects Avila to be able to man the position next year, but also likes prospect James McCann as a long-term piece.
- Dombrowski said that he does not know whether Torii Hunter will retire. If he elects to play, the club values his clubhouse presence immensely but has yet to make any decisions as to whether it would pursue him in free agency. Dombrowski also discussed prospect Steven Moya, who could be a long-term replacement for Hunter. “I don’t know if he’s going to be ready or not,” Dombrowski said of Moya. “You can hope and he may be ready, but I’m not really sure. His performance in the Arizona Fall League, then going to winter ball will be important for him.”
- Soon-to-be free agent starter Max Scherzer appears set to test the market, and Dombrowski did nothing to curb the idea that he could be headed for a new team. “Well, we had thorough conversations before the season, and I don’t know that it’s all dictated by us at this point,” said Dombrowski. “I think we made ourselves pretty well known at the time where we stood. … I think we probably made more of an effort to sign Max earlier in the year. So I don’t think your odds improve [from] what they were earlier. Why would they improve if we have one-on-one ability to speak with you, compared to having 29 other clubs speak with you? Only time will tell.”
- In terms of a possible replacement in the rotation, Dombrowski said the team has internal options and may not feel the need to add an arm via free agency. “I think we have some young pitchers we feel pretty comfortable with at this point,” said Dombrowski, “… but I feel comfortable staying internal with the four guys we would have at that point. But again, we haven’t made that decision.”
- The prognosis on shortstop Jose Iglesias is positive, says Dombrowski. Though he will allow manager Brad Ausmus a chance to evaluate him in the spring, the GM says that he expects Iglesias to take the everyday job “if he returns to the form of the past.” On the other hand, Dombrowski said the team needs to be prepared if Iglesias is not at full strength.
- Detroit’s closer situation will probably not undergo changes over the offseason, said Dombrowski. Joe Nathan will likely have the ninth inning job going into the year, but will need to “perform up to the capabilities required” to keep it. Elsewhere in the relief corps, young power reliever Bruce Rondon, who underwent Tommy John surgery, is expected to be ready for the year, says Dombrowski.
That news is hardly a surprise, as Texas was said to be leaning strongly in that direction. Rios ended his first full season with the club on somewhat of a down note, ending the year on the DL with a thumb issue after a tough season. He slashed .280/.311/.398 over 521 plate appearances on the year, hitting four home runs and swiping 17 bags a year after he was good for 18 long balls and 42 steals. With his value on the bases down and defensive metrics generally viewing Rios as a below-average right fielder, he ultimately landed just above replacement level.
Rios should still garner plenty of interest on the free agent market. He will be entering his age-34 season, so a lengthy pact would be surprising, but Rios is not far removed from some very good seasons. Over 2012-13, he slashed .291/.329/.473 in 1,302 plate appearances with 43 home runs and 65 steals.
The news that the Rangers will decline the option brings to an end one of the more interesting contracts in recent memory. Fresh off of two big seasons, Rios inked a seven-year, $69.835MM extension with the Blue Jays back in April of 2008. Things turned sharply down in the 2009 season, but Toronto was famously bailed out of the deal when the White Sox claimed Rios off waivers.
Though Rios struggled mightily at times in Chicago, the club was rewarded at the end with the aforementioned seasons, and ultimately was able to trade Rios to the Rangers last August in exchange for Leury Garcia. Heading into the year, Rios’s option actually seemed likely to be picked up, which was quite a turnaround for that much-maligned extension. All said, over the life of the deal, Rios was worth just north of 15 wins above replacement (by the reckoning of both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference).
Earlier today, the Dodgers and Rays announced the stunning news that Rays GM Andrew Friedman would leave his post to become the new president of baseball operations for the Dodgers. The move shook the baseball world and, obviously, comes with some significant ramifications not only for the teams involved but for the entire game.
MLBTR’s Zach Links participated in the conference call after the announcement, and reported on the thoughts and observations of owner Stuart Sternberg and new GM Matthew Silverman. Hare are some more reactions and fallout from the news of the day …
- For the Dodgers, the move to add Friedman is a part of a broader shift towards modernizing baseball operations, Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com reports. If the launch of big spending and major moves was phase one of the new ownership group’s plans, then Friedman will be entrusted to engineer phase two: a bid to make the Dodgers the powerhouse franchise and brand of the 21st century, driven by a traditional scout-and-develop approach that is informed and supplemented by analytics and a robust war chest.
- Baseball America’s John Manuel opines that Friedman got out of the Rays organization at the right time (Twitter link). The Rays have had some rough drafts in recent years, resulting in a thin farm system, while the Dodgers’ minor league system has far more high-end prospects, he writes.
- ESPN’s Buster Olney suggests that Friedman is likely to hire a GM to work underneath him, much like the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer pairing with the Cubs (Twitter link). Olney speculates that Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen and Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler are candidates.
- One Dodgers source told Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com that the Dodgers’ failed pursuit of David Price this summer, ironically, heightened their interest in Friedman. Said the source: “They always asked for the right prospects. Not just the guys everybody knows, either.”
- On the managerial front, the Dodgers are expected to stick with Don Mattingly for next year, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times tweets. Meanwhile, Joe Maddon said he remains committed to steering the Rays, and even said he expects to talk extension over the coming offseason, as Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune reports on Twitter.
- Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus writes (subscription required) that Friedman will bring his “black box” of subtle tricks with him to Los Angeles, and will likely make his impact in many nuanced ways. Dave Cameron of Fangraphs says that the Dodgers seem likely to launch into a tighter spending model more reminiscent of the recent-vintage Red Sox, with Friedman hopefully delivering continued on-field results at a lower price tag.
The Mets hope that 2015 represents the start of a window of contention that has seemed in planning for some time. But cracking that window open without compromising its structural integrity could require some careful handling.
- David Wright, 3B: $107MM through 2020
- Curtis Granderson, OF: $47MM through 2017
- Bartolo Colon, SP: $11MM through 2015
- Jon Niese, SP: $16.6MM through 2016 (including buyout of 2017 option)
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Bobby Parnell, RP (5.132): $3.7MM projected salary
- Daniel Murphy, 2B (5.109): $8.3MM
- Eric Young Jr., OF (4.123): $2.3MM
- Dana Eveland, RP (4.029): $1.0MM
- Dillon Gee, SP (4.028): $5.1MM
- Ruben Tejada, SS (3.171): $1.7MM
- Lucas Duda, 1B (3.137): $4.3MM
- Buddy Carlyle, RP (3.096): $1.0MM
- Jenrry Mejia, RP (2.140, Super Two): $3.1MM
- non-tender candidates: Young, Tejada, Carlyle
The first order of business is already in the books: Sandy Alderson will not only be back as GM, but received an extension that keeps him under contract through 2017. Barring a disastrous season to come, then, it appears that Alderson will have the chance to see through the rebuilding process that he started back before the 2011 season. Terry Collins will also keep his seat as skipper, reflecting the generally positive vibes surrounding the club last year.
While cautious and hopeful optimism has held sway in Queens of late, expectations could go through the roof this spring. After a dominant start to his career, Matt Harvey was shelved for Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2014. He is expected to be a full go, and if he shows his typical form down in Port St. Lucie, visions of grandeur will not be far behind.
True, Harvey is only one player, but he’s both a really good one and not the only reason to hope that the rotation could be a unique strength. Zack Wheeler came with nearly as much prospect hype, and has not disappointed – even if he has not been a true ace out of the womb. Jacob deGrom just wrapped up a stunning rookie campaign in which he tossed 140 1/3 innings of 2.69 ERA ball with peripherals to match. He may be somewhat old for his MLB debut — deGrom is now 26 — but the fact remains that he was outstanding over a lengthy stretch, and is under control for six more years. New York can round out its starting five from amongst a trio of solid-to-decent starters who are all playing under solid-to-decent contractual situations: Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Bartolo Colon. And there is both depth and upside ascending the ladder underneath this group, led by top prospect Noah Syndergaard, the touted Rafael Montero (who made his big league debut in 2014), and the rising Steven Matz.
This bunch of starting pitching assets – and bunching of qualified starters at the MLB level – has led to speculation that a trade could be forthcoming. Unless a young player at a position of need were dangled, New York seems highly unlikely to part with its most valuable arms. But Colon, Gee, and perhaps even Niese could potentially be had, particularly if Alderson decides it would be useful to re-allocate some payroll to address other needs.
Of course, the most strident trade suggestions have revolved around the idea of the Mets sending some of its hurlers to a shortstop-rich team like the Cubs or Diamondbacks. The idea of adding a controllable shortstop certainly has facial appeal. And while common wisdom holds that young players (especially prospects) tend not to be traded for one another, there are exceptions; recently, several deals have involved exactly that type of exchange. (E.g., D’backs get Didi Gregorius, give Trevor Bauer; Tigers acquire Jose Iglesias, give Avisail Garcia; Padres get Andrew Cashner, give Anthony Rizzo.) But indications out of Chicago and Arizona are that both clubs are generally content waiting to see how their middle infield situations shake out before making moves. Likewise, the Mets’ seeming MLB-level pitching logjam does not directly involve the team’s most valuable pitchers; after already going through the TJ process with Harvey, the club will surely be in no rush to move arms.
Barring a trade, the Mets will face a somewhat familiar situation at short. After passing on veteran Stephen Drew last year, following months of rumors, the Mets gave nearly all of the playing time to Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores. Neither grabbed hold of the job, but both played above replacement level. Each had defensive metrics that ranged from about average to substantially above-average (a surprise for Flores, who was expected to move off the position). At the plate, the pair showed their respective strengths and weaknesses, as Tejada slashed .237/.342/.310 over 419 plate appearances and Flores went for a .251/.286/.378 line over 274 trips to the plate. As with last year, but this time with more urgency, Alderson must decide whether to continue the audition process or instead acquire a veteran who could boost the club’s chances of making a postseason run. The Mets could pursue the still-young Asdrubal Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, or Drew – this time on a fairly modest one-year deal – or go after a veteran platoon/reserve option.
Behind the plate, young Travis d’Arnaud was quite productive in the second half and figures to have the starting role again. He could, however, be pushed by rising prospect Kevin Plawecki. That duo is also good enough, perhaps, that a trade could ultimately make sense, though the likelier scenario is for the Mets to let it play out before committing to a single option.
Otherwise, the infield appears largely set, for different reasons. David Wright is the face of the franchise and is going nowhere at third. The team will hope for a return to form. First baseman Lucas Duda rewarded the Mets’ faith in dealing away Ike Davis with a breakout campaign. And Daniel Murphy had another strong year at second entering his final year of arb eligibility.
Though that alignment could be kept in its present form, Murphy remains worth watching. He has come up repeatedly as a trade or extension candidate, with the idea that New York should either deal him while it can achieve value or commit to him long-term. The team does have plausible replacements, and could give a chance to one or more of Flores, Dilson Herrera, or Matt Reynolds. But that would not represent a bet on the present, and another productive year from Murphy could make him a mid-season trade chip or even a qualifying offer candidate after the year.
One other possibility for improvement straddles the infield dirt and the outfield grass (which, it bears noting, will be somewhat less voluminous after the Citi Field fences are again brought in this offseason). Duda’s big year came in spite of worsening splits against lefties. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams rightly pointed out to me, it could make sense to add a right-handed bat to spend some time both at first and in the outfield. Adams suggests that free agent Michael Cuddyer would make a good fit for that role, particularly if he can be had on a short-term deal and paired with another right-handed hitting corner outfielder. Over at MetsBlog, Matthew Cerrone discusses a scenario of that kind, ticking through a few available options.
As things stand, one corner spot is wide open, with possibilities ranging from a signing or trade to some kind of platoon. (Internal options include the switch-hitting Eric Young Jr. and left-handed-swinging Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis.) Certainly, there are a fair number of intriguing bats floating around that may not require massive commitments — Cuddyer, Colby Rasmus, and Alex Rios among them. Otherwise, the remaining two starting roles are accounted for, as Juan Lagares has shown enough that he will be trusted to hold down the job in center and Curtis Granderson will look to restore hope in the remaining $47MM left on his deal.
What’s left is the bench and the bullpen. Most of the position reserves will likely be drawn from amongst the names discussed above, as New York has a host of young infielders and outfielders who can be expected to provide reasonable production (with some upside) for a league-minimum rate. Many decisions will be driven by the team’s coming 40-man roster crunch.
The pen, too, is not likely to see much change, barring a trade. Bobby Parnell will return from Tommy John surgery and look to unseat Jenrry Mejia from the closer’s role, though he may not be ready to start the year after going under the knife in April. Jeurys Familia will presumably join those two as the late-inning favorites. Others in the mix include righties Vic Black, Carlos Torres, and Buddy Carlyle. There is somewhat less depth on the current 40-man from the left-handed side, with Josh Edgin and Dana Eveland being the likeliest options. In the aggregate, the Mets have plenty of arms to choose from and could just take what emerges out of the spring. Depending upon how the free agent market moves, it would not be terribly surprising to see Alderson add a veteran arm, but that can be said of most teams and is not a top priority.
Some reports indicate that total spending is likely to remain in the ballpark of last year’s mid-$80MM Opening Day payroll. Of course, as Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com explains, that number looks somewhat implausible given the current slate of contracts. And the Mets seemingly operate with a flexible budget for player spending, anyway. With $54MM in contractual guarantees and about $30MM in potential arbitration spending still to go, the tab is already set to outstrip last year’s starting point, even before accounting for any new additions. Beyond simply adding some cash to the ledger, the club could potentially free more dollars by reallocating resources: a sacrifice of some pitching depth, for instance, might well be worth the commensurate risk to achieve near-term upside by upgrading in the outfield or middle infield.
In the end, the Mets have the talent in place to make the fabled “meaningful games in September” a reasonable expectation. And the possibility of a full-on breakout cannot be discounted, though that would require several things to turn in New York’s favor. (Interestingly, there are plenty of parallels to the 2012 Nationals.) Alderson now seems to have many of the cards in hand that he set out to find; all that remains is to play them.