The Mets doubled down on their roster core and added some risky but upside-laden pitchers.
Major League Signings
- Dellin Betances, RP: one year, $10.5MM (includes $6MM player option with $3MM buyout & escalator provisions)
- Rick Porcello, SP: one year, $10MM
- Michael Wacha, SP: one year, $3MM (plus $8.35MM in incentives)
- Brad Brach, RP: one year, $2.1MM (includes $1.25MM player option for 2021; Brach also owed $500K by Cubs in 2020)
- Total spend: $25.6MM
Trades and Claims
- Acquired OF Jake Marisnick from Astros in exchange for LHP Blake Taylor & OF Kenedy Corona
- Claimed SP/RP Stephen Gonsalves off waivers from Twins
Notable Minor League Signings
- Matt Adams, Ryan Cordell, Max Moroff, Eduardo Nunez, Jarrett Parker, Erasmo Ramirez, Yefry Ramirez, Rene Rivera, Chasen Shreve, Joey Terdoslavich, Rob Whalen
- Aaron Altherr, Luis Avilan, Rajai Davis, Todd Frazier, Donnie Hart, Juan Lagares, Joe Panik, Rene Rivera, Zack Wheeler
Whatever you may think about the Mets and GM Brodie Van Wagenen, you can’t accuse them of being uninteresting. Van Wagenen has toned down some of the public bravado he exhibited in his first offseason at the helm, and didn’t oversee any wild blockbusters or major spending outlays this winter, but still delivered a fairly bold slate of moves — at least, within the organization’s own limitations.
There’s ample upside in the new arms that the team added. It’s probably not worth considering the earlier ceilings of Porcello and Wacha as reasonably plausible scenarios, but it’s not hard to imagine either or both functioning as quality mid-rotation types. Likewise, it’ll be a tall order for Betances and Brach to revisit their peak seasons, but even ~75% of what they’ve shown at their best would be a nice outcome for the New York org. You could say the same for Marisnick, who has one above-average offensive season under his belt and a track record of excellent glovework.
Sure, each of those guys comes with an equivalent downside scenario. Porcello and Brach allowed more than five earned runs per nine in 2019. Wacha and Betances come with major health questions. Marisnick’s career 79 wRC+ actually lags that of the man he’ll effectively replace, fellow defensive standout Juan Lagares. But still, for a cumulative investment of twenty-five million bucks, it’s not a bad value play at all.
All that said … wanna guess which NL East team spent the least this offseason? Nope, not the Marlins. It’s the Mets, even in a winter in which they realized enormous cost savings in the final year of their agreement with Yoenis Cespedes. Let’s revisit what I wrote at the outset of the offseason:
So, unless the Wilpon ownership group is preparing to commit more cash to the cause, the front office is going to have to get very creative. The Mets roster does have quite a bit of talent, but it’s also the same essential unit that fell short this year and could certainly stand to be supplemented in several areas.
It’s clear how important the Cespedes savings were. Originally promised $29.5MM before suffering a pair of ankle injuries in an accident on his ranch, the veteran slugger is now promised just $6MM. The difference accounts for virtually all of the team’s spending … sort of.
Odds are the Mets will end up being obligated for more than that amount — on a pro-rated basis, anyway, depending upon how the league and union sort out the complicated contractual questions posed by the season delay. But the team will for the most part be in control of its incentive pay and thereby gain some assurance of a return on it. Cespedes earns another $5MM so long as he returns to the active roster (or hits the IL with a different injury); he can also tally another $9MM through plate appearance incentives. Wacha’s deal includes a load of upside if he’s healthy and throwing well enough to keep getting the ball.
That flexible situation was designed to help the club deal with a rather high-variance roster. And to be fair, the Wilpons did sign off on a club-record payroll, though it’s a modest year-over-year move from just under to just over $160MM (that’s not including whatever is still owed to David Wright by the team, the details of which aren’t known, or any incentive money).
Going back to that pre-season piece I wrote … the very next lines:
There’s no true center fielder. We all know how the bullpen looked in 2019. The rotation is missing one piece and still also needs depth.
Well, there you have it. The club checked each of those boxes with the above-cited MLB signings and trades. But doing so on a budget meant sacrificing in several regards, and left a roster that has some clear pathways to success but also some real questions.
Spending more or striking a trade might’ve provided a clearer answer in center field. Instead, the Mets added a player in Marisnick who may best function as a platoon piece against left-handed pitching and late-game defender/baserunner. This could work out fine — if Brandon Nimmo is able to produce at a high level at the plate (which seems likely) and provide at least palatable glovework (less clear).
The outfield mix contains some good pieces. Michael Conforto is another strong lefty bat; southpaw swinger Dominic Smith off the bench is quite the luxury. J.D. Davis was a beast last year. Cespedes may now be ready for a delayed Opening Day. It’s just … those pieces don’t really seem to be from the same puzzle. The Mets seemingly declined to sacrifice long-term value (their assessment of it, anyway) to compose a cleaner 2020 picture. Smith and Davis aren’t the most comfortable fits, but the Mets understandably love their bats. The club will bet that talent and depth will produce success in one way or another — which, honestly, doesn’t sound so crazy but could perhaps fail to function in practice.
It’s a much simpler situation in the infield, where the Mets have no choice but to hope for a bounce back from Robinson Cano, continued growth of double-play partner Amed Rosario, and further excellence from Jeff McNeil (who’ll step in at third base) and lovable new star Pete Alonso. Behind the dish, the Mets will hope that Wilson Ramos can sustain some improvements in meshing with the pitching staff late in 2019 and keep Tomas Nido as the reserve. Utility candidates include Luis Guillorme, Eduardo Nunez, Max Moroff, and Jed Lowrie — if he’s able to get back to health.
There’s an awful lot of potential pop in that assembly of bats, though there’s also potential for offensive variance and the defensive picture isn’t as compelling. But the potential for swings between greatness and disaster is all the more evident in the pitching staff.
Nobody is going to complain about a starting unit fronted by the game’s top pitcher (Jacob deGrom), one of its highest-upside hurlers (Noah Syndergaard), and an accomplished but still-youthful sidekick (Marcus Stroman). With talented lefty Steven Matz now joined by Porcello and Wacha, there’s an appealing back-end mix. But several of these hurlers have had health issues of late and the depth falls off considerably from that point. Still, this remains the Mets’ chief strength. There’s obvious potential for this to be the game’s best rotation.
The toughest place on the roster to project is undoubtedly the bullpen. Rewind a few years, and you’d be looking at an all-out monster of a unit featuring some of the game’s best short-stint hurlers in Betances, Brach, Edwin Diaz, and Jeurys Familia. That’s not all. Seth Lugo was outstanding last year, lefty Justin Wilson was good as well (and has been better in the past), and Robert Gsellman has a track record that suggests he can be a solid contributor. It’s just that … it’s hard to ignore the terrible outcomes (or lack of innings) produced by much of this group last year. The Mets have a lot of cash invested in this unit and can’t be sure they have up-and-coming arms or available resources to patch any holes that arise.
2020 Season Outlook
The Mets look about as good on paper as any team in the division. And there’s arguably a greater ceiling with this club than its chief competitors. That said, it’s precisely the sort of competitive position where some added expenditures might’ve gone a long way. And it’s not clear whether ownership will give the front office spending capacity to bolster the roster if it’s in position to add at mid-season (if that’s even an option in a truncated campaign). Mets fans will have to hope for the best … all while waiting to see what comes of an uncertain ownership situation following the collapse of an agreed-upon sale of the franchise.
How would you grade the Mets’ offseason moves? (Link for app users.)