We’ll continue our series in which we look at how each 2015 playoff team could have gone about the offseason in order to chase a ring in 2016 with the New York Mets, who surprised many by reaching the playoffs and then making it all the way to the World Series. When the team’s offense seemed to be failing towards the middle of the season, Sandy Alderson called up Michael Conforto and traded for Yoenis Cespedes. The two moves provided a huge boost to the team’s run scoring capabilities and allowed the team to pass the Washington Nationals in the standings and take home the National League East divison crown. Let’s see how we might be able to turn this World Series loser into a World Series winner in 2016. For more of an introduction, see the first piece in the series about the Yankees.
Since the offseason is already over, I will be looking at the deals each team has made and giving my input. I will keep the mostly inconsequential ones, but for the most part I will be making my moves as though the offseason has not yet started and all of the free agents are still out there and all the traded players are put back on their original teams.
1. Traded Jon Niese to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Neil Walker
Sandy Alderson and the Mets pulled off an incredible trade here, as they landed a top ten second baseman for a fifth starting pitcher. Niese had no spot in the rotation even if they did keep him, and the Mets were able to flip him for Walker, who is now probably their best infielder. Some will harp on the fact that Walker is a one-year rental, but I would argue that the Mets did a good job of getting a player whose trade value was lowered because of the fact that he will be a free agent in 2017. I would much rather have one year of a talented second baseman than three years of Niese at roughly ten million dollars per year. The Mets were able to make a huge upgrade at a position where they did not have a good solution in a trade that only cost them someone that they probably would have used as a long relief pitcher.
I find this signing absolutely baffling. Both Wilmer Flores and Dilson Herrera have their flaws, but Cabrera is not much better, if he even is better, than either one of them. Although he experienced a bit of a bounce-back year fielding wise, Cabrera is quickly losing the ability to play shortstop. In 2015, his DWAR was actually 0.0, but in 2014 it was -1.2. With Cabrera now on the wrong side of 30, it would have been smarter for the Mets to stick with what they had than to sign someone who represents a marginal upgrade at best. Flores won’t set the world on fire, but twenty home runs, a high contact rate, and slightly below average defense are what you can expect from him. That isn’t great, but the overall product will not be far off from what Cabrera will do.
3. Re-Signed Jerry Blevins and Bartolo Colon to one-year deals
These are both smart moves. Blevins is an underrated relief pitcher who is extremely tough on left-handed batters. Over the past three season lefties have managed a paltry .194/.236/.304 slash line against him and right-handed batters don’t do all that well against him either. Colon may not perform all that well, but he can eat innings, which is very important when you have a young pitching staff. Of course, the pitching staff seems significantly less young when Colon is at the end of it, but he will save the bullpen a lot as the Mets try to watch the innings count of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz.
4. Signed Alejandro De Aza to a one-year contract
In hindsight, the Mets probably would not have done this if they had known that Cespedes would be coming back, but De Aza is still a valuable bench player. He can hit right-handers pretty well and can fill in at any of the outfield positions. I say that to mean that he is no worse defensively at any one spot than he is at the other two, even though he is below average at all three positions. His value lies in the bat that he brings off the bench, as there are few better offensive players that you will be able to find as fourth or fifth outfielders.
5. Signed Anotnio Bastardo to a two-year contract
Bastardo’s ERA has fluctuated throughout the course of his career due to high strikeout and walk rates. While his FIP has generally stayed in the low 3s, his ERA bounces between the 2s and the 4s, but has only settled between 3.00 and 3.99 once in his entire career. The point is that while you don’t know what his ERA will be exactly, he is capable of pitching very effectively. At times he is overpowering, sporting a career strikeout rate of more than eleven K’s per nine innings, but his walk rate prevents him from being a great reliever. He won’t lower his walk rate, but once all of the strikeouts and walks even out, Bastardo is generally a pretty good relief pitcher.
6. Re-Signed Yoenis Cespedes
The contract is technically for three years, but there is a very low chance that Cespedes does not opt out after the first year of the deal. Because that is the case, this deal makes a lot of sense in money terms. However, the on-field implications are not as great. Cespedes is a very good corner outfielder that the Mets just signed to play center field. Last season he saved his teams 15 runs in left field and cost them four runs in center field. With Conforto and Curtis Granderson manning the corners this season, Cespedes is going to have to play a position that he is not good at. The problem is really that Cespedes is a below average fielder with a cannon and that is good for left field but not center. The man that will be pushed to the bench just happens to be one of the best center fielders in the game in Juan Lagares. Lagares has saved 54 runs over his first three seasons in the major leagues, which is one of the best marks in the league. He doesn’t provide much offensively, but he did provide a 2.4 OWAR in 2014. Ultimately, whatever they gain by putting Cespedes’ bat in the lineup will be negated by taking Lagares’ glove out of the field. The only difference is that the Mets are $25 million less rich.
Just as a reminder, here are the cutoffs that we are looking at:
Many people are high on the Mets as they come off of a World Series appearance and their young pitching gets another year of development. The only problem that we are ignoring (perhaps too much) is the fact that this team did not play like a World Series contending team all year long. Their run differential at the end of the year was plus 70, which usually indicates a team whose win total was in the high 80s. This is not a complete team and it can improve in many areas. Even though this team made it pretty far last season, I am going to gut it in order to make the Mets a World Series contender in 2016 rather than wait until the pitching staff realizes its full potential.
1. Sign Ian Desmond to a three-year contract
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about what happened to Ian Desmond this offseason. Why did he reject the qualifying offer after a down season? Why did he agree to a position change on a “prove it” deal that will diminish his value for next offseason? Why did the Rangers give up a first round pick for one year of him if nobody else thought he was worth the pick? And why did nobody want this guy in the first place? There is no denying that Desmond had a highly disappointing 2015 campaign, but no other shortstop has been able to provide the blend of power and defense that Desmond has over the past four seasons while staying healthy (You were about to name Troy Tulowitzki, weren’t you?). 2015 was his worst season since 2011 and he still posted a 2.0 WAR. There are many reasons for optimism in 2016 with Desmond, because his walk and strikeout rates did not change. His average dropped because his batting average on balls in play dropped rather than a higher whiff rate and his on-base percentage dropped for the same reason rather than a decline in plate discipline. His defense has graded positively in terms of DWAR since 2011, and that would be a huge upgrade over Wilmer Flores (or Cabrera, for that matter) in the field. The gap is just as great on offense, as Flores may provide the home runs but not the same base stealing and run scoring capabilities, nor does he have as high an on-base percentage. This deal would have made a lot of sense for the Mets, as they would have been able to lock up one of the better shortstops in the game for three years at a cost below market value when they don’t have a shortstop in the minor leagues who will be ready soon.
2. Sign Hisashi Iwakuma to a three-year deal
There are two important things to note about this signing before we discuss the baseball implications. The first is that I clearly don’t buy the idea that the Mets have no money to work with. The Wilpons have been using the Madoff scandal to justify low spending for years now and they have to be in a position to spend now with all of the money that they get from owning a baseball team in New York. I think there has been more of a reluctance to spend than an inability to spend on the Mets’ part. The other thing is that the Mets are that team that I said should outbid the Yankees for Iwakuma. When I wrote the article for the Yankees all the way back in November, I said that I thought Iwakuma made a better fit somewhere else but the team should still go after him. That team is the Mets, and I am saying that the two New York teams should have gotten in a bidding war over a player with the Mets coming out on top. As mentioned in that piece, Iwakuma thrives on an extremely low walk rate and he has enough movement on his pitches to just keep filling up the strike zone without having to worry too much about getting hit hard. Home runs are a concern, but that won’t be as much of a problem in Citi Field (which is why I think he fits better with the Mets) and I am playing Lagares in center field to track down those fly balls that would be home runs in other ballparks. Iwakuma has a good ground ball to fly ball ratio and has a career WHIP of 1.08. He throws a lot of sinkers that have sharp movement towards the end of the pitch and that makes it really difficult for batters to get the barrel on the ball against him. With the tendency for players to hit less home runs at Citi Field, it would not be a big surprise to see him with an ERA under 3.00 in New York. Health concerns forced him to settle for a one-year deal with Seattle, but the Mets should have jumped at the chance to sign Iwakuma for three years. He could have provided the innings that Colon does but done it much more effectively. They could have had another steady number two starting pitcher while Syndergaard and Matz still work out some of the difficulties that come with being a young pitcher.
3. Trade Curtis Granderson to the St. Louis Cardinals for Matt Adams and Jordan Walden
Now things are going to get fun. I said that I would gut this team, and that process has just begun as we take away the Mets' starting right fielder. Granderson shocked the baseball world last season by posting a WAR over 5.0 for the first time since 2011, and he had not gotten above 3.0 from 2012 to 2014. Granderson saw his batting average on balls in play increase quite a bit from what he normally does in that category and his home run per fly ball rate was the highest he ever had in any full season that he was not with the Yankees. In other words, I don’t buy that his resurgence is real. Another reason for pessimism is that his defense was the best it had been in a few years and he should be declining as a fielder at age 35. The Mets should move on now while his value is as high as it will get from this point forward.
Despite all of the reasons that I just laid out for why I think Granderson will not be all that good in 2016, I think he makes sense for the Cardinals. They lost Jason Heyward and were reportedly looking at Alex Gordon and other free agent outfielders before deciding to stay put. Granderson would not replace Heyward, but he would give them an adequate corner outfielder, which is not something that they have in Matt Holliday. By getting rid of Adams, the Cardinals could move Stephen Piscotty to first base, where he will probably be less of a defensive disaster, and get Thomas Pham in the starting lineup. Of course, they would probably start Holliday over Pham, but that would not be a wise decision and Holliday is likely to get hurt anyway. This deal would allow the Cardinals to trade Adams without losing his offensive production while being able to move some players around to positions that they are better at.
Going the other way in the deal are a starting first baseman and a good relief pitcher. You will soon see why I have them acquiring a first baseman in this deal, but I think Adams is a better hitter than his numbers have shown. He has a high hard hit rate, which is calculated based on the velocity of the ball coming off the bat, and had a pretty low batting average on balls in play last season. That oddity should correct itself soon, and Adams’ batting average will start to rise. His home run per fly ball rate has been on the low side, so he probably has more home run power than his mere 39 career dingers in 337 games would indicate. Another reason for optimism in the home run department is that Citi Field is actually pretty nice for left-handed batters. The ballpark reduces home runs for righties, but that turns out not to be the case for those hitting from the left side of the plate. Adams provides slightly below average defense at first base, which is a bit better than what Lucas Duda gives, and he should hit well enough to replace the production of either the man he is being traded for or the Mets’ current starting first baseman. As for Walden, the Mets were a few bullpen arms short to start the offseason and the right-hander will be able to shore up one of those spots. While he does struggle with control, Walden has struck out nearly eleven batters per nine innings in his career and can bring the heat. He has averaged a fastball around 96-97 miles per hour during his career with a changeup and slider that take off a little more than ten miles per hour. Control has always been his one problem, but he still manages to pitch pretty well even though he gives up some free bases. The control issues won’t change, but he should still provide quality innings in the middle of the bullpen and would be excellent guy to turn to with runners on base when the team is in need of a strikeout.
4. Trade Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud to the Miami Marlins for Martin Prado, Kendry Flores, and Brian Ellington
I admit that I like the Neil Walker trade better than this one for the Mets, but I can’t just erase what I had and insert that trade just because it happened. This trade would never happen because I am the only imaginary general manager crazy enough to trade a starting catcher plus another starting position player for one starting position player and two relievers. Then again, this imaginary general manager really loves Martin Prado. Prado’s value comes down to much more than versatility. He hits for a high average, has a decent on-base percentage, and does not strike out much. He can field second base, third base, and left field really well, and that is going to be really important for the Mets because of David Wright’s health concerns. I would start Prado at second base on Opening Day, but realize that he will move to third base once Wright goes down with an injury. Prado usually ends up with a WAR in the 2-3 range and should provide the Mets with much more consistency than the boom-or-bust Duda. While Prado plus the two relievers might not add up to the total value of Duda and d’Arnaud, the Mets are able to get a really good player, fix the middle of their bullpen, and clear two starting spots. We needed to trade Duda after acquiring Adams, but we definitely needed to trade d’Arnaud because he is blocking Kevin Plawecki. I wrote about why I think Plawecki is the next defensive Yadier Molina in the article on the Cubs, but he has all of the framing, blocking, fielding, and throwing skills necessary to excel at all aspects of the game from behind the plate. His minor league track record suggests that he will eventually hit better, but he doesn’t really have to. His defensive ability already makes him one of the most valuable catchers in the game and the Mets need to let him play everyday. When your strength is your young starting pitching, you want to give them the best defensive catcher you can find. Plawecki just might be the best defensive catcher in baseball right now. As for the two pitchers, Flores is a twenty-four-year-old who has a chance at being a back-end starting pitcher but is probably best suited as a relief pitcher and Ellington is a twenty-five-year-old who throws really hard in the bullpen. Flores will be in our bullpen for the Mets, where we hope that he might be able to create some extra velocity. Even if he doesn’t gain more speed on his fastball, he should be a decent pitcher. He keeps his walk rate around 2.5 batters per nine innings and has shown the ability to consistently pitch to the corners. Home runs were not a problem in the minors and he looks capable of being a solid middle reliever who does not overpower batters but just keeps getting them to hit it softly. Ellington, on the other hand, managed to strike out over a batter per inning in the minor leagues and can reach the high 90s with his fastball. He did not show control issues in the minors last season, but did walk 13 batters in 25 major league innings, so he may not be quite ready yet. Nevertheless, I think he has the stuff to succeed right now and some of those control issues won’t matter with Plawecki behind the plate.
Before we move on, let’s quickly tackle what the Marlins are getting from this deal. For starters, they would have more incentive to trade Justin Bour while his value is the highest it will ever be. They did consider doing that but ultimately did not really pursue any trades for the first baseman entering his second season. Perhaps they would be more willing to do that if they had another starter at the position in Duda. Duda would provide an instant boost to the offense that really struggled even with Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup. Duda would add nearly three wins in improvement over Bour while d’Arnaud would certainly provide more offense than J.T. Realmuto. For all the excitement over the young catcher, Realmuto never hit more than twelve home runs in any season in the minors and he hardly walks at all. I think he will struggle to reach base thirty percent of the time in the major leagues and d’Arnaud would certainly provide more than that. The Marlins would also get a defensive boost too, since d’Arnaud rates very well in pitch framing. In other words, the Marlins lose two young relief pitchers and a very valuable infielder, but are able to gain two players that will significantly help their offense. The offense was one of the worst in the major leagues last season, and this trade would help them at least move towards the middle of the pack by upgrading at two positions that gave them next to nothing in the lineup last season.
5. Trade Zack Wheeler to the Oakland Athletics for Josh Reddick
I agree with those saying that the Mets should let someone else take the risk that comes with Wheeler. The rest of their pitching staff is too good and their lineup has too many holes to just let an asset heal for two years. As for the landing spot, I think Oakland makes a lot of sense as a team that would be willing to take some risk in waiting for a potential number two starting pitcher to come back from Tommy John Surgery. The A’s are in no rush to get back to the playoffs, given how bad they were in the standings last season and wouldn’t have anyone blocking Wheeler when he is ready to return. While Reddick is certainly a very good player, he is worth the upside that Wheeler has. They probably will not be able to get a player that can be a number two starting pitcher, or whatever the hitter equivalent of that is, for a thirty-year old outfielder with health concerns of his own. That being said, Reddick would be a nice addition for the Mets. While his defense took a hit last season, Reddick played at a near-Gold Glove caliber level from 2011 until 2014. Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Reddick is what he was able to do with his strikeout rate in 2015. He struck out only 11 percent of the time last season compared to 18 percent for his career, mostly due to a large increase in contact rate on balls pitched in the strike zone. While it is hard to gauge exactly what his power is by looking at the numbers, he should see an uptick in the home runs category going from the Coliseum to Citi Field as a left-handed batter. Reddick is a much better all-around player than Granderson in right field and would be the kind of player that they should want in return for Wheeler. To recap all of the trades so far, the Mets have exchanged first basemen and right fielders while acquiring a new second basemen and upgrading at catcher by trading away the incumbent starter. While I am getting rid of some players coming off of good seasons, the players that the Mets are getting in these trades are more likely to be better for 2016, with the possible exception of getting Adams and moving Duda.
6. Promote Dilson Herrera, Brandon Nimmo, and Rafael Montero to the major league roster
All three of these players are to be used as backups or, in Montero’s case, as a relief pitcher. None of them will provide a lot on his own but each one can make a contribution at the major league level. Nimmo will probably give the least, but the Mets won’t be able to find someone left on the free agent market who will provide better value as a backup. Thus, we will just have to go with Nimmo and take what little he can provide. Nimmo was a first round draft choice, so the Mets did have high hopes for him. However, those hopes have fizzled along with his performance in the minor leagues. He has never been able to display the power that the Mets thought that they might be able to get from him and his batting average has fluctuated. Even though he leaves a lot to be desired at the plate, Nimmo possesses really good plate discipline and has always been able to get on base enough to make a difference. Even in the years in which his average has been around .240, he has been able to get on base about one-third of the time. While some bench players may rack up better traditional counting statistics, Nimmo will provide a higher on-base percentage and play good enough defense to be a smarter choice. I would normally say that he should wait another year in the minors, but I don’t see him turning into a starting player during his career so there is little harm in bringing him up as a backup now.
Herrera, on the other hand, is a much different story. While the young middle infielder has yet to be given the shot to stick on the big league roster, Herrera has put up impressive numbers in the minor leagues. Herrera has shown the ability to hit 15 home runs and steal 15 bases with a good on-base percentage. It is difficult to figure out where his batting average will come down because his batting average on balls in play has spent time at both extremes, making the raw batting average numbers less useful. What Mets fans should get excited about is the fact that he usually has an on-base percentage about eighty points higher than his batting average. While he probably won’t get much of a shot this year, the club probably views him as its starting second baseman in 2017 after Neil Walker hits free agency. I would bring him up now and get him accustomed to major league pitching. He will also be able to play second base everyday on my team when Wright gets hurt and Prado moves over to third base. Until then, getting Herrera at-bats against major league pitching in any way possible will be a big step in his development and help more than spending a second year in AAA, where he has already hit .327/.382.
The last one to address here is Montero, who started last season in the major league bullpen but only pitched ten major league innings. He was sent down and got hurt before throwing too many innings in Triple-A and ultimately just had a wasted season. Montero may be able to join a major league rotation at some point in the future, and his minor league track record would suggest that he should, but he’ll be a key piece of the bullpen for now. He recorded a high strikeout rate in his short time in the majors in both 2014 and 2015, as he has struck out more than one batter per inning pitched and he was really good at keeping a low walk rate in the minors. He isn’t a particularly hard-thrower but still manages to beat batters with control and a slider that has great movement and a big drop in velocity from both his four and two seam fastballs. The Mets were weak in the middle innings last season and could use someone like Montero, who will rarely give the other team free baserunners and has the ability to make batters miss.
7. Sign Jonny Gomes to a one-year contract
Wait a minute, did you just force Gomes onto a team because you like him too much? OK, yes, you got me, but hear me out on this one. While Gomes was just signed to play in Japan and has not posted a positive WAR since 2013, his value goes far beyond what he brings on the field. Gomes is the kind of player that teams try to find a spot for because of how great a person he is to have in your clubhouse. He immediately improves the morale of his entire team everywhere he has gone. We didn’t hear so much about it in Tampa Bay, but he and Brandon Phillips were said to have made baseball so much more fun for everyone in Cincinnati. As he has gone from Washington to Oakland to Boston to Atlanta to Kansas City, we have heard really good stories about how he helps younger players adjust to the game and how everyone loves having him around. In Kansas City, the Royals thought of him as another bench coach and they asked him to travel with the team and stay in the dugout when he was left off of the playoffs and World Series roster. While the negative impact of his play may be magnified over the course of 162 games, it still won’t outweigh the positive contribution that he has on everyone around him. As far as baseball goes, he can provide some pinch hitting against left-handed pitchers and that is about it. He can’t hit righties, can’t field, and you definitely don’t want him on the basepaths too long, but he will make a positive impact for his new team in Japan and the Mets should have wanted a guy like him to be around their young roster.
Final Team and Projections
Kevin Plawecki (2.3 WAR) – His defense is too great to ignore.
Johnny Monell (0.1) – There is a very high chance that he is a Quadruple-A player, but he is worth a shot due to the abundance of replacement level backup catchers and the power that he showed in the minor leagues.
Matt Adams (2.5) – This guy has much more power than he has shown so far.
Martin Prado (3.3) – He still provides great defense and a steady bat towards the six or seven spot in the lineup.
Dilson Herrera (1.4) – The Mets are curiously reluctant to give this guy the shot that he deserves.
David Wright (0.9) – What I’m about to say will offend many Mets fans, but this team should be more worried about the games that Wright does play than the ones that he doesn’t.
Ian Desmond (3.4) – Not much changed in his walk and strikeout rates. I expect a nice rebound.
Matt Reynolds (0.8) – He had a high on-base percentage in the minors and has a solid glove, too. Should be a good backup for now.
Michael Conforto (2.8) – His minor league track record suggests that his on-base percentage will be even higher this year.
Juan Lagares (4.1) – I am guessing that only about 1.0 of that number comes from offense and his defense is good enough to make up the rest.
Josh Reddick (3.5) – He has had a 3.5 WAR for the past two seasons. Why not make it three?
Jonny Gomes (-0.3) – His value is that he is fun.
Brandon Nimmo (0.6) – He should walk enough to be worth a spot on the bench.
Jacob deGrom (6.1) – He is the Mets’ real superhero, but he doesn’t have a cool nickname yet. Can he just take the title of Dark Knight away from the next guy?
Matt Harvey (3.7) – His BABIP against suggests that he should give up more hits this year.
Noah Syndergaard (3.4) – His minor league stats say that he will walk more batters, but the strikeouts might stay the same.
Steven Matz (2.7) – It’s hard to predict Matz’s WAR when you don’t know how he’ll do at the plate.
Hisashi Iwakuma (3.1) – His ground ball tendencies should play out really well in Citi Field.
Jeurys Familia (1.7) – He somehow only gave up 16 runs on six home runs in 78 innings. That first number will go up.
Sean Gilmartin (1.5) – He somehow gave up 17 runs on two home runs in 57 innings. That first number will go down.
Rafael Montero (1.1) – He has more control than fire, but he is really good with that.
Kendry Flores (0.9) – His FIP sat at 2.90 last season.
Brian Ellington (0.7) – His minor league numbers show that he is due for an increase in strikeouts and a decrease in walks.
Carlos Torres (0.8) – The insane 180 plus innings that he threw from 2013 to 2014 caused his struggles in 2015.
Jordan Walden (1.0) – This guy strikes out nearly eleven batters per nine innings.
Here are the numbers for the Mets: