Offseason Outlook: New York Mets
by CONNOR BYRNE
MLBTR is publishing Offseason Outlooks for all 30 teams. Click here for the other entries in this series.
After preventing left fielder Yoenis Cespedes from departing in free agency last offseason, the Mets entered 2017 on the shortlist of potential contenders in the National League. But injuries and down years beset nearly all of the Mets’ top players this season, leading to a 70-win campaign and the end of Terry Collins’ run as their manager. GM Sandy Alderson & Co. are currently searching for Collins’ replacement, but regardless of who’s atop the dugout next season, roster improvements are clearly in order.
- Yoenis Cespedes, OF: $87.5MM through 2020
- David Wright, 3B: $47MM through 2020
- Juan Lagares, OF: $15.5MM through 2019 (club option for 2020)
- Asdrubal Cabrera, INF: $8.5MM club option or $2MM buyout
- Jerry Blevins, RP: $7MM club option or $1MM buyout
Arbitration-Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)
- Nori Aoki (5.148) – $6.3MM
- Tommy Milone (5.113) – $2.2MM
- Matt Harvey (5.072) – $5.9MM
- AJ Ramos (5.030) – $9.2MM
- Jeurys Familia (5.024) – $7.4MM
- Zack Wheeler (4.098) – $1.9MM
- Travis d’Arnaud (4.044) – $3.4MM
- Wilmer Flores (4.003) – $3.7MM
- Jacob deGrom (3.139) – $9.2MM
- Noah Syndergaard (2.149) – $1.9MM
- Hansel Robles (2.127) – $1.0MM
- Non-tender candidates: Aoki, Milone
[Mets Depth Chart; Mets Payroll Information]
The Mets were never able to get off the mat after a 10-14 April, and as the season wore on, it became obvious Alderson was going to sell the team’s free agents-to-be in the summer. Ultimately, with the exception of Jose Reyes, Alderson dealt every notable Met on an expiring contract either before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline or prior to the Aug. 31 waiver deadline. During those two months, the Mets said goodbye to outfielders Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce, first baseman Lucas Duda, second baseman Neil Walker and reliever Addison Reed, among a couple others. All five of those players weighed heavily into the Mets’ franchise-record $155MM Opening Day payroll, a figure that will reportedly decrease by around $20MM in 2018. When factoring in the Mets’ arbitration projections and a couple club options they’re likely to exercise, roughly $100MM of their payroll for next season already looks settled. As such, New York probably won’t be a major player for the premier members of this offseason’s free agent class. That means Alderson is going to have to strike gold on some bargain pickups in order to help the team return to contention.
There’s a litany of question marks on the Mets’ roster heading into the offseason, but the most suspect area may be their infield. Aside from 21-year-old starting shortstop Amed Rosario – who, despite his elite prospect pedigree, struggled in his first 170 big league plate appearances – it’s anyone’s guess how the four-man unit will look in 2018. Third baseman and franchise icon David Wright will continue to loom over the Mets’ payroll through the next three years, but upper body injuries have prevented him from playing in the bigs since May 1, 2016, and he just underwent yet another surgery. The Mets can’t count on Wright to bounce back, something Alderson realizes, so they’re going to have to figure out what to do at the hot corner.
With Wright sidelined for all of 2017, Reyes, Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera combined to fare decently, but that doesn’t mean any are locks to start at third next season. Reyes is probably done as a Met, while they’ll have to make a decision on Cabrera’s $8.5MM option. The Mets will have to pay Cabrera a $2MM buyout if they decline to bring him back, which looks unlikely. After all, the 31-year-old has offered solid offensive production during his two-season tenure as a Met, and he’s capable of playing multiple infield positions. Flores and Rivera also bring respectable bats and defensive versatility to the table, making them strong bets to continue factoring in across the infield.
Should Cabrera, Flores and Rivera stays in their plans (and if Rivera’s recovery from Tommy John surgery goes smoothly), the Mets might not feel obligated to make any significant changes at either third or second, but if they do, there will be some reasonably priced options available in the coming weeks. Mike Moustakas figures to be out of the Mets’ price range at third, though fellow impending free agents Todd Frazier (a New Jersey native), Eduardo Nunez and, if he’s willing to move off shortstop, Zack Cozart might be fits. Nunez or Cozart could be solutions at second, too, which also holds true for Walker – who enjoyed his stint with the Mets – Howie Kendrick and trade candidates such as Ian Kinsler (Tigers), Yangervis Solarte (Padres) and Logan Forsythe (Dodgers). The speedy Nunez stands out as an especially intriguing possibility for a team that stole the majors’ fourth-fewest bases in 2017 (58) and finished fifth from the bottom in FanGraphs’ BsR metric. Notably, no Met acquitted himself better in either of those departments this season than Reyes, so losing him and adding Nunez would essentially be a lateral move from a baserunning standpoint.
As right-handed hitters, Flores and Rivera could be platoon mates at first for the lefty-swinging Dominic Smith, but the Mets might want to find an upgrade there. Smith, who debuted with the Mets in August as a top 100 prospect, was woeful during his 183-PA introduction in 2017. While the Mets don’t necessarily have to abandon hope on the 22-year-old, they also shouldn’t hand him the job at first next season if their goal is to contend. With three minor league options remaining, Smith could go back to Triple-A while the Mets turn to a more established player at first. That’s not to suggest they’ll splurge on Eric Hosmer or Carlos Santana, but Bruce, Duda, Yonder Alonso, Logan Morrison and Mitch Moreland may be on their radar as more payroll-friendly types (admittedly, giving Smith another shot might make more sense than turning to the mediocre Moreland).
As Joel Sherman of the New York Post noted last month, Bruce could also act as a right field fill-in if breakout star Michael Conforto’s late-season shoulder surgery keeps him out of action in early 2018. Conforto’s injury somewhat clouds the outfield picture, but it still seems fair to surmise that the Mets’ alignment in the grass next season will mostly consist of him and Cespedes flanking a Juan Lagares/Brandon Nimmo tandem in center. With those players on hand, the Mets could cut ties with expensive reserve Nori Aoki. Although Aoki performed well after signing with the Mets late in the season, his low-ceiling skillset may not be worth $6MM-plus to a team with many holes and limited spending room.
While the Mets’ group of position players has plenty of issues – including behind the plate, arguably, though it appears they’ll stay the course with Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki – their pitching was the weaker area in 2017, surprisingly enough. The Mets’ staff looked elite coming into the year, but their starters and relievers wound up recording the majors’ third-highest ERA (5.01) and 10th-worst fWAR (10.0). Injuries were at fault to a degree, especially considering fireballer and all-world ace Noah Syndergaard was barely available on account of a torn right lat. Syndergaard sat out all of May, June, July and August, limiting him to 30 1/3 innings on the year, but he returned late in campaign and figures to take the ball on Opening Day in 2018.
If healthy, Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom are about as good as it gets atop a rotation, but certainty is difficult to find anywhere else among the Mets’ cadre of starters. Former ace Matt Harvey will be back in his last year of arbitration eligibility, and while it does make sense to tender him a contract, his leash may be short next season. In his first action since undergoing July 2016 thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, Harvey pitched to a 6.70 ERA/6.37 FIP across 92 2/3 innings. More of that next year could send him to the bullpen or out of New York entirely. Harvey certainly wasn’t the only Mets starter who disappointed this season, though, as Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler were also ineffective before seeing their years end early thanks to arm problems. The fact that they opened the season with durability concerns makes their truncated, below-average 2017s all the more troubling. Meanwhile, the other Mets who amassed double-digit starts – Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero – also failed to distinguish themselves as rotation locks this year. The only member of the trio without any options left is Montero, which means he could find himself out of the organization if he doesn’t at least crack the Mets’ bullpen next spring.
The Mets clearly have enough arms to fill in a rotation behind Syndergaard and deGrom, but as evidenced above, there’s substantial risk with each of those hurlers. As such, it would behoove the Mets to search for a competent innings eater – something they had in Bartolo Colon from 2014-16. If they’re not in big-spending mode, expecting to find the type of production Colon offered during that three-year stretch may be unrealistic, but there will still be affordable free agents who could help their cause. Doug Fister was on the Mets’ radar early in 2017 and is due to reach the market again after an encouraging showing in Boston. Other potential targets in free agency may include CC Sabathia (it’s hard to imagine the Yankees not re-signing him, though), Jaime Garcia, Jhoulys Chacin, Jeremy Hellickson, John Lackey, Jason Vargas, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman, to name several.
Moving to the bullpen, there will be an array of quality relievers available in free agency, which is good news for a Mets club on the lookout for late-game stability. Jeurys Familia, like many other Mets, was both injured and unspectacular in 2017, pitching to a 4.38 ERA and walking nearly 5.5 batters per nine innings over 24 2/3 frames. His struggles played a part in the Mets’ bullpen posting the majors’ second-worst ERA (4.82) and fifth-lowest fWAR (1.2). Only one bullpen – the Brewers’ – recorded a higher walk rate than the Mets’ 4.25 per nine, while just eight induced fewer groundballs. The Mets’ woes in the walk department came despite having Reed for the majority of the season. Reed put up an extremely impressive 1.1 BB/9 in 49 innings with the Mets this year, and he’s one of several control artists headed for the open market. As shown in the previous link, no free agent-to-be combines appealing walk and grounder rates like Brandon Kintzler, who was top seven this year among impending FA relievers in each category. If signed, he’d join Familia, Jerry Blevins and AJ Ramos as the Mets’ go-to arms in high-leverage spots. However, the Mets may opt for a far more strikeout-minded reliever(s) than Kintzler, who barely punched out four batters per nine innings this season.
Evidenced in part by their pitching staff, a lot has changed in the past year for the Mets, who went into last offseason bent on keeping a playoff-caliber roster intact. Twelve months later, they’re an NL also-ran that closed this season with a dreadful record and the league’s third-worst run differential (minus-128). Better health alone will prevent such a poor finish from happening again in 2018, but management will have to make a variety of shrewd moves this winter in order to restore the club to the winning ways it displayed from 2015-16.