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.