Fresh off back-to-back playoff seasons, the Mets entered 2017 with championship aspirations but have instead endured a Murphy’s Law campaign. Injuries and subpar performances have been the norm this year for the Mets, who have limped to a 63-84 record and have allowed 84 more runs than they’ve scored (783 to 679). With the exception of right-hander Jacob deGrom, all of New York’s stars have missed significant time with injuries. Even the Mets’ brightest spot of 2017, breakout outfielder Michael Conforto, couldn’t get through the year unscathed. Conforto suffered a torn left shoulder capsule in August, though the Mets don’t expect it to negatively affect him next season. As the Mets hope Conforto fully recovers from surgery over the next several months, their general manager (be it Sandy Alderson or someone else) will use the offseason to upgrade their roster in the hopes of returning to contention in 2018. Here’s a look at a few things New York could do during the winter…
1.) Add reliable starting pitching:
Ace Noah Syndergaard hasn’t pitched since suffering a torn lat muscle in his right arm on April 30, thus depriving the Mets of one of the game’s elite starters for nearly the entire season. He and deGrom will front the Mets’ rotation next year, though, giving the team an enviable one-two punch and taking pressure off the remainder of the rotation. New York is in dire need of help behind that duo, however, as counting on any other in-house options entering 2018 would be a substantial risk.
Former ace and 2016 thoracic outlet syndrome surgery recipient Matt Harvey’s career has gone off the rails since last season, meaning the Mets will have to decide whether to bring the 28-year-old back in 2018 for his final arbitration-eligible campaign. Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz each endured rough seasons that ended early on account of injuries, which is all the more trouble considering they came into the year with durability questions. And both Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo have taken sizable steps backward since serving as key starters for the Mets in 2016. Rafael Montero, the only other Met to log double-digit starts this season, has been passable (4.83 ERA, 4.09 FIP in 85 2/3 innings), but it’s unclear whether he has done enough to warrant a spot for next year. The soon-to-be 27-year-old won’t have any minor league options remaining when 2018 rolls around.
From 2014-16, the Mets had Bartolo Colon in the fold as someone to provide 30-plus starts of roughly 4.00 ERA ball to complement their top-of-the-rotation arms. They’ve clearly missed that type of starter this season, though the year Colon has had with the Braves and Twins suggests he wouldn’t have been part of the solution anymore for New York. Any of Jhoulys Chacin, Marco Estrada, Doug Fister (whom the Mets courted as a free agent earlier this year) or John Lackey could make sense if the Mets aren’t in big-spending mode on the open market. But if New York is willing to splurge on an expensive starter, Lance Lynn would be a strong fit. Lynn missed 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but he has otherwise delivered nothing but quality seasons of 175 or more innings since 2012.
2.) Sort out the infield:
It’s safe to say Amed Rosario, one of the game’s premier prospects, will continue to man shortstop in 2018. Uncertainty abounds everywhere else in the Mets’ infield, including at third base, where injuries have ruined team captain and seven-time All-Star David Wright’s career. Neck, back and shoulder problems have limited the longtime superstar to 75 games since the start of the 2015 season, and he hasn’t played in a major league contest since May 1, 2016. The Mets can’t expect anything out of the 34-year-old going forward, then, especially considering he underwent right rotator cuff surgery earlier this month. Wright is due an astronomical $20MM salary in 2018, but the Mets will save 75 percent of that figure via insurance for as long as he’s on the disabled list.
Wright replacements Jose Reyes, Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera have been reasonably effective in his stead this year, but it’s no sure thing any will be the answer at third next season. Reyes and Cabrera aren’t even locks to be on the team in 2018, in fact, as the former is a free agent-to-be and the latter has a team option. Barring trades, Flores and Rivera will be back (notably, the latter is recovering from Tommy John surgery), but they’ve never been single-position players. Those two could continue to rotate among third, second and first next year, which, combined with a Cabrera return, would mitigate the need for a major infield acquisition in the offseason. Otherwise, the Mets could conceivably add an established player at any of those spots, depending in part on whether they think rookie first baseman Dominic Smith is already a capable starter. In the aggregate, the 22-year-old hasn’t been all that productive since the Mets promoted him in the first half of August, and he wasn’t a world-class minor league producer. While Smith’s September numbers are gaudy (.300/.375/.620 in 56 plate appearances), an unsustainable batting average on balls in play (.379) and below-average strikeout and walk numbers paint a less rosy picture.
If they’re not content with Smith and/or their other infield options, there should be some reasonably priced potential targets available for the Mets in the offseason. First base types in Yonder Alonso, old friends Lucas Duda and Jay Bruce, and Logan Morrison will be on the market as cheaper alternatives to Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana. Eduardo Nunez and Todd Frazier lead the way at third behind Mike Moustakas, who may prove to be too expensive for the Mets’ taste. Reds shortstop Zack Cozart could also entice third base-needy teams in free agency, though his lack of durability may scare away a Mets team that has dealt with a deluge of injuries lately. Considering his baserunning prowess, Nunez would be a good fit for New York, which ranks 25th in the majors in FanGraphs’ BsR metric and 29th in steals. Nunez can also play second, where the upcoming free agent class lacks players who are obvious upgrades over what the Mets already have. The same is likely true of the trade market, as the Tigers’ Ian Kinsler and the Dodgers’ Logan Forsythe have underwhelmed this year. The Athletics’ Jed Lowrie has fared well, on the other hand, but injuries have been problematic for him during his career.
3.) Get relief help:
Mets relievers finished 2016 second in the majors in fWAR and sixth in ERA. One year later, they’re 19th and 29th in those categories. There’s currently little in the way of confidence-inspiring in-house options beyond AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins and Jeurys Familia, the latter of whom has been one of many high-profile Mets to suffer through an unexpectedly terrible season, perhaps leaving room for multiple additions. Indeed, the Mets are zeroing in on the bullpen as an area they’ll need to address in the offseason. As MLBTR’s Jeff Todd wrote Wednesday, former Met Addison Reed, Brandon Kintzler, Juan Nicasio, Anthony Swarzak and Pat Neshek could land on the Mets’ radar over the winter. Those are just a handful of many soon-to-be available veteran relievers who would figure to better the team’s late-game situation.